tech tips for writers / writers tips / writing

Tech Tips for Writers #123: Quick Search for Plagiarized Images

Tech Tips for Writers is an (almost) weekly post on overcoming Tech Dread. I’ll cover issues that friends, both real-time and virtual, have shared. Feel free to post a comment about a question you have. I’ll cover it in a future Tip.

Q: I found the perfect image for my book cover (or a marketing piece), but I don’t know if it’s legal to use. How can I find out?

Try Google’s Image Search. Go to:

Upload the image you want to search for (or drag-drop it into the field), like this one:

child drawing

Google will find all the places it appears:

google image search


Use this when you aren’t sure where images you want to use came from. Once you can track them back to a website, ask permission to use them or search the website for a Public Domain-type notice.


More on images:

5 Image Apps

What Online Images are Free?

My Picture’s a TIFF and the Program Needs a JPG

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

43 thoughts on “Tech Tips for Writers #123: Quick Search for Plagiarized Images

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  5. First of all, “digital citizenship” I love this term and have never heard it before.
    Secondly, thank you for really helpful info and especially for a strategy for figuring out the domain ownership. Last thing any of us need is to be sued.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great idea, Jacqui – thanks so much for sharing this. I found the Copyscape plagiarism checker the other day and had fun looking to see if anyone had used the words from my blog (they hadn’t) but they had with my daughter’s food blog and when I contacted her she told me they had done so with her permission. Interesting 😀

    Now I’m going to check my pictures 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think anyone has mentioned this, but there is also a tool called TinEye ( ) that is a bit more limited in some ways, but is better in others. TinEye immediately shows you a set of matching images arranged, if you click it, by DATE! That allows you to immediately see the possibly first use of the image. You can also arrange them quickly by SIZE so that you can get the best (usually, though not always, the largest is the best) image.

    Once you’ve determined the earliest image on TinEye, you can then use Google image search set to return results only from around that date or earlier. Usually I believe you’ll have already come up with the first use, but occasionally Google may turn it up embedded somewhere odd and earlier that TinEye didn’t hit. Google also allows for a search for “visually similar images” which will produce a WIDE variety of images sharing the general color scheme etc… usually a bit too many to be useful, but on the upside they’re all presented together and can be quickly eyeball-scanned.

    When I was working on the cover of TobakkoNacht ( See ) I found a number of variations of the image that related to various political messages. The oldest one on TinEye, from 2008, dealt with a modern political message about Gays however, and the tone of the image suggested it might have deeper roots. In this case it wasn’t until the fourth page of results that I finally turned up what truly seemed to be the original, created for the War Office in the early 1940s:

    and was then able to determine that it was in the public domain and adaptable for my use.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Great procedural as well as personal experience, MJM. I too spend a lot of time verifying the provenance of images before I use them. Your needs are more serious when you’re talking about a public magazine. I appreciate you sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes the best route is to consider creating your own images, either with an artistic friend or a professional artist, or, as I eventually did for several images in my book, diddling around on your own with a camera and graphics program. I had one particular tale in the book from a woman who had been convinced that she’d gotten breast cancer from using a phone that a smoker had used previously. (Note: the smoker wasn’t even smoking while using it: he had simply come back to an office after smoking during a break!)

        I dug around my basement and came up with an old standard black desk phone from the 1940s/50s, set it on a small table against a patterned quilt in the background, snapped a few pics, inverted the black and white image so the black phone turned to a ghostly, smudged, disseased-looking white, and then added “Smoker” and “Phone” to the ends of the handset, an ” = ” sign in the middle of the dialpad, and “Cancer Phone!” along the bottom.

        The finished image was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT in conveying the image of paranoia, fear, and prejudice that the woman’s story along with several others had conveyed so well in words.



      • I love that story. You could search days for a public domain picture that didn’t communicate nearly as well. I love Photoshop, but when teaching about digital citizenship, there are so many great online tools I can recommend that are most often free (Sumopoint, GIMP–that sort). In the case of a photograph, programs like Chatterpix. They’re easy and effective and avoid the whole ‘using someone’s intellectual property’ landmine.

        Thanks for sharing the story.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The place I took the picture from is a publicly marked outlook point, so I’d guess that maybe a million people have taken that shot. The algorithm Google (and facebook for face recognition) uses to detect if two imagine are the same is not 100% accurate and makes a number of comprises to get close. If you look at the imagine matches for my photo, you can clearly see that some are different, some very different, but a couple look a lot like mine and without a ‘water make’ you have a hard time know which was my photo and which wasn’t.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I get a lot of pictures from the AOL images – how is one to know if it is copyrighted or not? I usually feel safe because they’re from archives and associations, but still…….

    Liked by 1 person

    • The only way to be sure is to find the primary source and then check their permissions. Flikr makes that easy to do and it’s usually use the picture with credit and/or linkback. Public domain sites like Pixabay don’t require anything. I don’t know about AOL. I’d check their page and see what their image requirements are. In general, copyright law says the death of the creator plus 25/70/95 or some other number of years places that work in the public domain. A lot of yours are probably in that category.


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