Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Adventure of the Mystery Artist (an unknown Sherlock thriller!)

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Homles, ca. 1930
I recently blogged about how I came to the sinking realisation that my Pinterest activities were actually infringing the copyrights of others. As a result, I'm working on becoming 'UnPinteresting' - or at least using social media sites such as Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest in a slightly more copyright-friendly way. Of course, I'm really hoping it means that I'll eventually get to be best buddies with some of the incredible photographers out there, and they'll then be falling over themselves to give me their photographs for free. But that'd just be the cherry on top.

I have a problem though. All this taking the high road stuff isn't exactly easy. Some of the images I'd pinned to my boards were...incredible. I loved them. Still love them. But they were sometimes a billion-layers-deep repinned/reblogged/reTumblred on the internet. I could just sit there for hours just clicking back and back through the history of one pinned image, desperate to find its source. The worst-case scenario would be hitting a dead-end. A page that was no longer there. Or someone who actually saved the picture from somewhere else, and uploaded it themselves without reference to the source.

Original Artist - where are you?!

That's when I started using Google's very cool image searching capabilities, and got all Sherlock Holmes-y on the problem (see? Mr Rathbone figures in here somehow). Finding the source of these images was actually rather elementary!

Did you know that you can search images on Google by using an image? Yes. I mean, search the internet USING an image. How cool is that? Even better, you don't need to actually upload an image into Google for it to search with. You can search Google images with just the URL (web address) of an image. Genius. (and at any point, if Google wish to provide me with cash sums as commission for selling their services, I'm open to that.) does it work?

Just so we're clear, I'm not here to insult anyone's intelligence, and if you have this whole Google image search thing down pat already, feel free to move on and maybe read some of my other posts (like when I got all down on love, or pondered about brains). But I know that some of us like to have a bit of step-by-step to make life easier.

Here's how it works for me on Pinterest:

STEP 1: Find the image you want to search with and right-click (sorry, Mac folks, you're on your own here) and look on the little menu for the words, 'Copy image URL'. Click on this.

STEP 2: Go to Google and click on the Images search at the top:

STEP 3: Click on the little camera icon in the Google Image Search box

STEP 4: Paste the image URL into the pop-up search box and click 'Search by Image'

STEP 5: The results will show all the places Google can find that same image on the internet. Scan through this list, looking for source websites that look more 'official' than Pinterest or non-professional Tumblr accounts.

I often find that most serious photographers have proper websites, or pro Flickr accounts with a detailed profile. With this particular photo, I quickly spotted this search result on the second page:

Going through to the Flickr account, I could see that it was a Pro account, it had a lot of testimonials, as well as many other photographs of a similar style and subject matter. From what I can tell, this is the account of the original photographer, Irene Anton. And what did I see just under the banner on her profile page?

You read it right. If I'd re-pinned the image, I would have expressly gone against the wishes of the photographer. And, look at that. She's not completely against being contacted for their use! Win/win.

Some closing thoughts.

Okay, so this is hard work. But any research is just that - hard work. If you're in search of beautiful, evocative, story-inspiring images, isn't it always better to dig a little deeper? Scratch past the surface into something more substantial? The way I see it, the benefits outweigh the cost of time.

  1. I now know this photographer's name. 
  2. I can follow them on Flickr without violating their copyright.
  3. I can find all the OTHER photographs they have taken (if you like one, maybe you will like others too!)
  4. That picture that was almost perfect, but not quite? What if it was part of a longer shoot and there are other versions to choose from?
  5. It's honest, and it's fair.
  6. I feel so much better.

So, go out there, search savvy and reap the rewards!

'What one man can invent another can discover.'
- Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Dancing Man

Learn more:

Original image courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection via Wikimedia Commons. (Alterations made by me).


  1. Now I have guilt!! :(
    Is there a support group I can join for this?
    (Going to sign up on flickr now...)

    1. Well, though the legal side of it seems identical, it *feels* that using Pinterest as a method of self-promotion (as I was originally doing with my book-inspiration boards)is somewhat 'worse' than simply using it freely for fun.

      It remains to be seen if stock photography companies and/or artist photographers will begin to successfully sue everyone who pins their images without permission. More likely you might see a 'Napster' situation, where some young innocent is made an example of in order to scare everyone else off.

      Doesn't seem to be an easy answer!