Photography & Video

The PEC Review: TinEye Reverse Image Search Locates Competitors, Protects Copyright

Product photography is an essential part of ecommerce merchandising. Customers like to see what they’re buying, after all.

Many manufacturers and distributors supply stock product imagery for merchants to use, and other retailers will invest in professional and unique product photography to gain a competitive advantage. In both instances, it can be a challenge to either find the best available stock product photography or to protect copyrights on unique material.

TinEye is a new reverse image search that allows a user to submit an image upload or to submit the URL to an image and search the Internet for matches. For online retailers, I believe the service could help to identify competitors, find new or better stock product photography, and protect unique material. For these reasons, I am awarding TinEye four out of a possible five stars in this “The PEC Review.”

“The PEC Review” is my weekly column created to introduce you to the products or services that I believe can help you improve your ecommerce operation. This week, try out TinEye.

How TinEye Works

When you upload an image to TinEye, the service creates a pixel-by-pixel “fingerprint” and compares this digital fingerprint to a database of about 1.4 billion indexed images. TinEye will find both exact and partial matches, so that even a cropped or modified version of a photograph or illustration can be found if the service has indexed it.

The underlying technology comes from Toronto, Canada-based technology firm Idée, which has been helping companies like Adobe, Digg, iStockphoto, Getty Images, and the Associated Press use visual search, image matching, and image identification solutions to protect copyrights and avoid plagiarism.

Find New Stock Product Photography

There are at least three ways that online retailers can successfully use TinEye. The first of these uses is to find new product photography that you can use.

If you’re like me, you monitor your competition, regularly visiting their websites and looking for new products and promotions (I call this surveillance searching, by the way). Often I will find that my competitors have new or different product images, some of which I like better than the ones I am using.

It is always wrong to “copy” or take photos, so in the past I have looked around the competitive set or contacted the vendor to learn if the image in question was, in fact, stock imagery that the vendor had available or something that belonged exclusively to my competitor.

With TinEye this discovery process could go much more quickly. Just do a TinEye search. If the image shows up on several sites, I call my vendor and ask for it. If it is only on one site, it is probably unique and under copyright.

Find Competitors

TinEye can also be used to identify new competitors. Simply ask TinEye to search for a manufacturer-supplied product image that you know has been distributed to retailers. The resulting set should turn up several, if not all, of your online competitors. Look for new sites, and voila, you’re monitoring and following new or previously unknown competitors.

Produce Unique Material

Often the best product and most compelling product photography must be produced, meaning that you have invested in a photo shoot to capture images of the products you sell on your site. If you’re an online retailer and you’ve invested in custom product photographs, those pictures belong to you and your competitors have no right to use them, even if they happen to sell the same product.

TinEye can help you find competitors that are violating your copyright. Search for your unique photos. You should not see any site but your own in the results.

Four stars

Plug-ins for Firefox, Chrome, and IE

In addition to the TinEye search page, there are three downloadable plug-ins that allow you to use TinEye directly from your browser. The three most popular browsers, Firefox, Chrome, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, are all supported.

Small Collection of Images

If TinEye has a weakness, it is that the service has only indexed a very small fraction of Internet imagery. But, with time, I believe that will become less of a problem.

Summing Up

TinEye is a free service that can help online retailers find images, find competitors, and product copyrights. For doing this with ease, TinEye earns every one of the four stars I have awarded it.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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