Finding Copyright Infringements on the Web

Already found an infringement? You may be more interested in the follow up to this post:

I’ve Found A Copyright Infringement – Now What?

   If you share your photography on the internet it is very likely that people are using them elsewhere on the web without your permission. No amount of transparent overlay images, right click disabling, watermarking, or other measures are going to stop this. Copyright infringements may be in the form of anything from use on personal blogs to commercial uses by large companies. Some may give you image credit, but most of the time I haven’t found this to be the case. Others may even take the credit for your image themselves! So how do you find these infringements on the web?

How do you actually find your images being used without permission?

   Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yandex have reverse image search capabilities you can use to find your photographs. Other companies such as Tineye have built their business around reverse image search. For most of these services you can drag and drop an image from your computer to be searched, or copy and paste a URL instead. I find this to be a tedious method when I have many many photos to search for. Luckily there is an easier way through using browser extensions.

   Personally I use an extension for the Firefox browser called “Who Stole My Pictures?” that allows me to search for infringements on all 3 services (Google, Tineye, Bing and Yandex) with just one right click. The search results open into new separate tabs. You can also download extensions that just use one of these sites for your reverse image search. Similar extensions exist for Google Chrome and likely other browsers as well. With most of my searches Google Images is the service that seems to find the most results. As I am searching for these images to pursue copyright infringement claims I will usually use all 3 services. The extra time involved continually clicking results tabs with no results is easily paid for in the 1/50 times when Tineye or Yandex will yield a result other than my own websites. Frequently these are results that Google did not find.

August 2015 Edit: I have done a lot of reverse searches since I wrote this post back in early 2014. Since then, I do not think I have found a match on Tineye or Yandex that wasn’t on my own site or social media accounts. I know Tineye is still often recommended as the reverse search engine to use, but more and more I ignore it (and Yandex) now. Bing has started their own reverse image search service, but it mostly seems interesting in terms of finding infringements on Pinterest at this point. This is relatively new, however, so perhaps it will show improvement with time. So while I still use the “Who Stole My Pictures?” extension to search for infringements on Google, Bing, Yandex and Tineye concurrently on occasion, I generally now use Google alone for infringement searches.

   The screen capture below shows my Firefox extension in action – performing a reverse image search on one of my blog photographs. Note that this search is on one of my 500 pixel wide thumbnails. Sometimes searches on thumbnails and full size images (on my blog full size is 900 pixels wide) yield different results. It can be worth it with “popular” images to do a search on both your thumbnails and full size images.

screenshot of right click menu for infringement reverse image search

When using a reverse image search plugin, you can right click to search for infringements of your images with multiple services at once.

What if I can’t right click on my images?

   For some of you the majority of your images may be on a site such as 500px, Flickr, Smugmug or Photoshelter that do not allow you to right click. While many of my infringed photographs come from my blog, the bulk of my image library is on Photoshelter. For those images I simply batch upload downsized copies to my own website in a hidden folder. I then load each photo and do the right click from there. When I am finished I empty the folder. For those of you without a website – there are fewer options. You can right click on G+ and images on Facebook if you have your images there. I tried this with both Dropbox and Google Drive and was unable to right click on those photos, though competing services may differ in that regard.

The search results

   Below are the search results for the reverse image search depicted in the first screen capture above. There were no results for Tineye or Yandex, so I closed those tabs and looked at the Google Images results. As this was a fairly recent blog post, I am not surprised to find only my blog in the results. Normally for each image I search I have a few results on Google – either from my blog or my Photoshelter image library. Sometimes my own posts on social media (mostly Google+) will show up here as well.

screenshot of right click menu for finding infringements via reverse image search

Reverse image search results from Google Images.

   Regardless of the reverse search engine used, I scan the results for sites that are not my own, or are posts that I did not make. One area to point out in the Google results above is the area titled “Visually similar images”. Most of the time if the image I am searching shows up here, it is on one of my websites or social media profiles. However, I do think it is important that you hover over a photo in this area to verify its location. I have caught more than one infringement in the visually similar images area that did not show up in the main search results. In the case of the search above – the visually similar image was from my blog post.

   The above methods may not be the only way to accomplish this kind of searching, but in the many methods I have tried it is currently the fastest and easiest. If you have a way that works better for you I would love to hear it!

I have found an infringement! Now what?

   I have written a follow up post outlining some of the options available if you have found an infringement: I’ve Found A Copyright Infringement – Now What? I hope that it will help point you in the direction to go next!