Thievery online isn't anything new. People have been, um, “borrowing” images for a long time. As one person erroneously told me, “If it's on the web, it's public domain.”
If you are a professional you'll want to protect your images. I recall Michael Grecco‘s tedious, but necessary workflow where he sends a batch of his images to the US Copyright Office ever time he wraps up a photo shoot. That takes some discipline, no doubt.
Registering your images at the US Copyright Office is the first step. But I have to wonder how many of us actively do it. When ownership of an image online does come into question, we've had TinEye for some time. You may have also used Myows (which claims to provide free online copyright protection).
Now Google wants to get into that sandbox too.
While Google doesn't offer to protect your images, it appears that this new service will help you search for them. So, if you were to have any question about where or how your images are being used, all it would take is popping them into the search engine and finding where it appears online. Given their larger database, I suspect this is going to be an important tool for photographers who are serious about their art.
Now, what else could you do to protect your images? Well, here is something that my friend Mark Higgins told me about. Instead of retaining your original file name, say, “DSC_3456.jpg,” rename it like so – “110616-smith-park-sb-001.jpg”
So, try and give each of your images a unique file name, if you can.
The other thing that might help is to use the “Alternate text” field to fill it in with text describing the image. This is easily done if you have a WordPress blog. As you upload an image, you'll be given a set of fields to fill out if you wish. The Title and Alternate Text fields (red in color in the screengrab below) are the most important as search engines count on these fields to understand and file away or index what it is they are looking at.
If the description of the image matches the content of your blog post, then search engines are more likely to link the two and give it a higher priority.
When it comes time to ascertain whether you are indeed the owner of an image or a clutch of images, there would be no doubt in anyone's mind, based on the information that you have baked into the files before they go online, that you photographed them.
There is more to search engine optimization, of course, so take the time to learn about it from the best. I highly recommend Zach Prez's Web Marketing Guide + Photography Blog Success ebooks. Yes, they are both affiliate links but I promote them only because I have found it very beneficial to me and feel they may be of use to you as well.
So, will Google's new ‘Image Search' option give photographers some peace of mind that their images aren't being used or misused anywhere outside of their control?
To give credit where credit is due, this blog post was inspired by A Photo Editor.
Update: It's nice to see other photographers discuss this new Google service. Read my friend Scott Wyden's review.