Though it might seem like something of a novelty, the ability for users to search for “purple flower” or “red car” might have an unintended side effect, enabling photographers and artists to better search for copies of their work online.
With most current photo searche engines based solely upon tagging and words around the image, there are very few techniques to effectively search for duplicates of an image on the Web. Searching for the file name, for example, is one possibility, but it is easily defeated by simply renaming the file before re-uploading it.
Though FeelImage, in its current incarnation, is only a minor step forward, it is already being used by some artists, including the Ripped Art Task Force, to track down copied images.
Other visual artists may find it just as useful.
The idea behind using FeelImage is pretty straightforward. If you have an image that is often stolen or you suspect might be, simply search for the color (or time) and a description of what is in the image. FeelImage, in a few moments, will pull up a list of photos similar to the one you describe. From there, it is easy to browse and look for any exact copies of your image.
It is important to note though that, when using FeelImage, that the color detection is automated and, thus, not perfect. If you have a picture of a red car that is set against a blue sky, FeelImage will likely read most of the image as being blue and it might not show up well on a search for “Red Car” but will show up higher on “Blue Car”.
Furthermore, FeelImage works best with photos and images that are of one subject and, for the most part, one color. The more complicated the image is, the less likely FeelImage will accurately describe it.
Of course, these are not FeelImage’s only limitations. The service is very new and it is important to be aware that it is still a work in progress. Thus, its search comes with a few caveats.
FeelImage, as its logo indicates, is only an alpha release. It is not feature complete and has many bugs in it.
The greatest limitation is that FeelImage only searches for photos on three photo services, Photozou, Zorg and Flickr.
Though Flickr is a very popular photo hosting service and is used to display images on many different sites, it is not the only image hosting service on the Web by any stretch. Photos hosted by Imagecshack, Photobucket and others will go undetected.
Second, the object information seems to be based upon the tags that the user supplies with the photos. Though the color detection seems to work automatically, perhaps to a fault, FeelImage has to look at the tags to determine what it is a photo of. Though creating a system to do that automatically would be virtually impossible, the reliance on user-submitted input, in this case a plagiarist, is a definite weakness.
Finally, since the service is still in a pre-release phase, the results are not as accurate as they could be. It is clear that the developers are still working on the software that runs the search engine as, in some searches, the first few pages of results are almost completely irrelevant. Some searches, however, work better than others and it is important to play around with modified searches to see what results you get.
Still, these limitations should not stop artists from at least experimenting with FeelImage. Not only can it be used to detect plagiarism, but its intended use, finding similar images based upon color and time, is a very interesting feature that produces some unexpected results.
It is a great tool and it will be interesting to see how it grows.
Image plagiarism is easily the hardest to detect. Though tools are available to monitor such infringements, they are generally out of the reach of your average blogger or amateur artist.
FeelImage represents only a small step forward in detecting image plagiarism but it is an important one. It finally gets through the use of text and tags and looks into the image itself for clues. This can help narrow down the search results and increase the likelihood that the image you want is at the top of the results.
Despite its severe limitations, at least at this time, it is an important site for artists, photographers and others who post images to be aware of.
Not only is it a powerful tool today, but it could easily grow into something much greater and provide an even bigger boost to artists in the future. It will definitely be a service to follow.