We've on occasion reported on some blatant copyright theft of comic artists' work, but a new specialist search engine could help creators track down culprits a bit more easily.
MicroStock Insider, a guide blog to selling stock photography on the web, reports on TinEye, a visual search engine which allows you to search for your images by submitting an image for it to analyse. It returns a series of hits which are pages where it thinks it has found a match for your images. It works by comparing the pixels and shapes in the images not by searching for meta tags or matching file names. (Meta tags, for those who don't know, are information you can add to an image to describe it using photo applications such as Photoshop -- surprisingly, few artists seem to do so).
TinEye is in beta development and there is currently no charge for it: you need to request a membership. Test results were very good, according to MI, and the engine also offers a Firefox plugin which it makes it as simple as navigating to any page (e.g. one with your images on them) right clicking and selecting Search Image on TinEye.
This makes checking your images much easier if you have a gallery of them online at a reasonable resolution that Tineye can access.
Due to the limited size of the current image index it's not really possible to use Tineye to perform any sort of license enforcement checking or measure how frequently used your images are used, but this could be a useful tool as it expands its search parameters. TinEye also cannot do facial recognition or find similar images, it can only find the exact same image, but it's worth bookmarking, I think.
Top technology site TechCrunch has also just posted their review of TinEye, making the point that there are other ways the technology could be applied. If Idée can figure out a way to seed the images it finds with tags, or combine its approach with a text-based index, it could create an image search engine that is really good at finding exactly what you are looking for.
Interest in TinEye has been understandably huge and has bowled over the engine's development team, Idée, who develop a range of advanced image recognition and visual search software, who say TinEye has now had hundreds of mentions on blogs, forums and websites around the world.
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