August 4, 2011

Are People Using Your Images Without Your Permission?

Are people using your images without your permission?  It’s quite possible, I’ve found mine in books, on blogs, in news articles and even being used commercially on business websites.  It was usually quite by chance that I’d find this out, perhaps because a friend would see my image and tell me about it.  With the advent of Google Alerts I could find a few more, but this searches for key words and so it was pretty ineffective for unattributed uses of images.  What’s really needed is a search engine for images and just today I learned that Google has given us such a tool!

But before I talk about how to search for images, you should first decide if you care if others use your images without permission.  For example, many people reproduce my images on their blog without my permission, but they do give me full credit and provide my web address.  This serves to introduce new people to my work and I really appreciate it.  But I’ve also had an online news organization use my images in several of their stories, without permission or attribution, and I was not okay with that!  It’s good to think about what unauthorized uses, if any, you’re okay with.

I’m pretty tolerant when it comes to unauthorized use if I’m given credit and my web address is provided.  I’m not okay with unauthorized use if I don’t receive credit or my images are used in a commercial way.  However others feel differently and do not want their images used in any way without permission.  They insist that if you don’t protect the use of your images, you actually lose your image rights over time.  If you’re concerned about this, please do some research or seek some legal council.

Once you’ve decided where you stand on this issue, the next step is to find out who might be using your images.  Here’s how you do it:

1.  Go to and click on “images” at the top left of the page.

2.  On the right hand side of the search box there is a camera icon, click on this to search by providing an “image” instead of a “search phrase.”

3.  Select “Upload an Image” to supply the photo you want to search for and then hit the search button.  You’ll then be given search results showing you where on the Internet that image has appeared.  Very cool!

It’s fascinating to explore these links and see where you images have appeared.  Today in just 10 minutes I discovered that I had won 2nd place in a Russian photo competition (that I hadn’t even entered) and found an auto parts company using my “Old Car Interior” image without permission or attribution!

Google has provided a great tool that is perfect for photographers and artists. But as important as knowing where your images are, is knowing what your policy will be for unauthorized use.

My thanks to Harold Ross for teaching me about this new tool via his blog;


P.S.  My next blog will be a follow up on the Facebook issue.  I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from all of the comments you’ve provided, and I’ve learned a lot!

18 thoughts on “Are People Using Your Images Without Your Permission?

  1. I’ve heard of this feature but never really thought to use it. I’m kinda like you, I don’t mind if people share an image as long as credit is give. By the way, thanks for the link to Harold’s work – really great images. Thanks for sharing. Hope all is well Cole.

  2. Hey, after searching only one image I found out I have quite a few Russian fans too! Not sure if I won a contest, though. What I should win, though, is a free cup of coffee since evidently I provided a coffee house with artwork for their music series poster! Thanks for sharing this tip…

  3. I found a picture of “The Dog Fence” I had taken being used on a website all about manmade fences! I have no idea what they were talking about as the website was wriiten in Spanish.

  4. I’m wondering if submitting your images to Google for the purposes of the search hands over any rights to them? Do they store those images?

  5. Attempting to test your thought Kell. Dropped an image of cat eyes into the newest google image search feature. The jpg is named towereyesgreenandcropped .
    This snapshot has never been on the web. Perhaps coming soon. I will look for the file name in an advanced search.

    Thank you Cole. Was interesting to see what google had come up with for visual matches. There was not a single feline face in the 30 pages I viewed.

  6. Really useful link – thank you for sharing it.

    I’ve never bothered too much about people using my images as long as they give me attribution and a link, and it was interesting to hear that you feel the same. My view’s always been that as long as you get the acknowledgement it’s only going to help bring people to your site, but a lot of people still get very upset about their photos being used in blogs, to the extent of plastering ugly watermarks all over them.

    My own Flickr images have a Creative Commons licence on them, which means they can be used for any purpose, but I only post low res images that have limited use. I did once find one of my photos being used on a porn site – yes, really! I hasten to add it was a picture of light refraction from a glass tumbler; I’ve no idea how it ended up on there. After much thought, I decided just to leave it alone. I look forward to having a go with the Google image search.

  7. Gilly, I’ve never been a fan of the watermarks, particularly the big ones that go across the image. I could see some logic for the smaller ones at the bottom of the image, but I find them terribly distracting.

    I also don’t worry about someone lifting my images and printing them because like you, i only provide low resolution versions. You couldn’t print much more than a 4X6 without them falling apart.

    Porn site? That’s rich!

  8. I doubt Google “keeps” the images we upload to search from. They already have access to them via the Internet.

    I saw this technology used in Google Picassa and it’s pretty amazing how Picassa can find and identify faces, and this search feature is an extension of that technology.

    I have to admit that I’m a Google fan, but we all should be constantly concerned about privacy and keep asking hard questions.

    Remember, 1984 is still coming!

  9. Kell,

    Did a search on the towereyesgreenandcropped jpg noted in my comment.
    An image came up in the google image search –
    The Angel Gabriel

  10. Cole, thanks for this information, and thanks for pointing me to Harold Ross too. I just re-posted his original blog post about this on our facebook page so our readers can learn about it. This is important stuff. I am the new Editor of photo technique, will be in touch with you soon via email!
    -Wendy Erickson

  11. Thank you so much for this post! I used Google’s image search tool and like everyone else, I found my images being used online w/out permission as well. This is absolutely important information and I am extremely grateful for the very savvy tech types who created this tool as well as to you for bringing it to our attention. I’ve reblogged your post as well [or the beginning I should say] w/ a link back here to ‘read more’. Thanks again so much!

  12. I´m sorry to say it but this search function dont work. I have tested it on 50 pictures that I have uploaded to the net, some of them to just a few pages, some of them to a lot of differnt pages. This search engine function dont even find the pictures where full credits are given and where the pictures is tagged!! Example: I have a picture which to my knowledge is uploaded 37 times (with full credits) This search function only found 6 of them!!
    All the best

  13. Peder, two thoughts come to mind.

    First, when you put a new image up it takes a while for the web crawlers to find it and index it, so you may be checking too soon. For example when I make changes to my website to improve my SEO, it takes up to 4 weeks for the changes to be indexed. I’m not sure that images are the same, but I’m guessing they are.

    Second, you mentioned that your images have credits and tags and that makes me wonder if you’re confusing a keyword search with an image search.

    If I do a keyword search on “Cole Thompson” and then choose “Images,” Google will find any images that it thinks is of Cole Thompson or created by Cole Thompson. The search uses credits and tags to find these results: this is a keyword search and we are looking at the image results.

    However this is not what we are talking about in this blog. This type of search is dependent upon people labeling and tagging the images in order for Google to index them.

    This new search we are discussing doesn’t use keywords, in fact it doesn’t use words at all! That’s what makes it so amazing.

    It takes a picture you supply it, and the computer in effect says “oh yea, I saw this picture over here, and over there. It literally knows what the picture looks like and tells you where other identical images appear.

    I just uploaded a picture of myself and Google found four pages of this identical picture on the web.

    I’ve had a number of people write me who were confused and were not using this search correctly. I don’t know if this is the case with you, but it’s good for me to mention this for others benefits.

    I hope you figure this out Peder, it’s a great tool!


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