Monday, March 4, 2013

So, who made this? How to reverse image search

Isn't this charming? But who made it?* Is it copyright protected, public domain, or Creative Commons?

It's a common problem these days. You've found a wonderful image online and you want to share it or use it in a slide deck presentation, but -- where did it come from? Who is the artist or photographer? There's no watermark or byline on the image, and your source appears to be clueless too. Do you share it anyway? Or do you respect creativity and research who made the image?

I hope you make a good faith effort to find out who created the image, and the image's level of copyright. Luckily there are some simple tools you can use. Here they are, listed in the order I use them:

Google Images [tutorial]. Google Images works two ways. The fastest method is to upload the image to Google (see above), or give Google the URL (web address) of the image. If you look below, Google not only found the image, it suggested the artist's website as a link. Jackpot.

Tin Eye Reverse Image Search. Tin Eye works the same way Google Images reverse image searching works: you can either upload the image you want to search, or you can give it the URL.
Tin Eye didn't find the source of the owl artwork, but it has worked pretty well for me in the past.

Keyword-searching. The other way you can use Google Images or Bing Images is to search for the key words in the image and see if the image shows up in Google or Bing's image results. For our sample image you might try OWL READING BOOKS SNOW. If you find matching images, these other pages may have the complete citation/copyright information that your source is lacking. The problem with this keyword method? If you don't find your image in the first few screens it is very time-consuming.

Smartphone apps
  • Digimarc: If the artist has a hidden digital watermark, this app can display it. Hopefully the watermark contains information on the creator's copyrights too.
  • Google Goggles: This app lets you take a picture of something with your phone and try to find a match on Google. Goggles will also locate some kinds of merchandise based on images you photograph. For example, if you photograph a book cover, Google will retrieve bookstores online who sell it. 
Hope that helps!

*The delightful "Snowy Owl Would Rather Be Reading" artwork by Johanna Wright; it is for sale at her Etsy shop. Used with permission.

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