PicScout Image Recognition

Posted on 4/13/2004 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



April 13, 2004

Zefa visual group has announced that it will be using PicScout's Image-Tracker service
to detect copyright infringements on German commercial web sites. So far more than
200,000 zefa and Masterfile images are monitored by PicScout on the European internet.

The PicScout proprietary image recognition technology can detect images that have been
cropped, resized, or colorized. "The web is a very important channel for the stock
agencies. But even password protected areas can not prevent unauthorized use of our
rights managed images", explains Tomas Speight, CEO of zefa visual group.

"The PicScout solution not only protects the images, but also turns unauthorized users
into paying customers", states Joachim Lieser, CEO of the new German PicScout
subsidiary. "Many German stock agencies have been waiting for such a service and will
surely follow zefa."

So far no U.S. agency is using this service, but several are considering it.

The PicScout service works by placing small previews of every image represented by an
agency into the PicScout database and then comparing them with images on the web that
have similar patterns and characteristics. For best results the images need to be the
same size as the ones that are being taken from the agency's site. Larger file sizes
tend to distort the results.

According to Eyal Gura, CEO and co-founder of PicScout, they do not search the entire
web, but focus their searches on commercial sites in specific countries designated by
their agency clients. The commercial and business areas are a relatively small portion
of the total web, and by limiting their search to these areas they focus their attention
on the uses where the greatest recovery is possible. Gura said, "Our customers don't
get information about some use by a child in Pakistan because it is irrelevant. They
would never be able to collect anyway. This way our customers don't need to be stuck
with tons of reports that they can do nothing about."

When PicScout finds a use they report the URL to their agency customer, along with the name
of the user, the time the use was discovered, the agency's image number (from the file
the agency provided) and a screen capture of the image. The software finds all uses,
both legal and unauthorized. It is then the
responsibility of the agency to determine if the customer had paid for this specific
use, or whether the use is unauthorized.

One might suspect that in trying to find an image based on its unique characteristics
there would be some cases where the image found would not be the exact image offered by
the agency, but something similar. In particular this would seem possible if the image
was cropped. Gura insists that the software is 100% accurate and each image reported to
the agency is the actual image that was among the previews delivered to PicScout by the

The price for this service varies depending on the number of images in an agency's
database, and the countries where sites are to be searched. At the recent Picta trade
show in Hamburg, Germany they had a special offer for agencies with 50,000 images or
The fee for the service was $2,500 per year plus 20% of any recapture revenue for
searching in the German speaking countries plus North America. However, they examine
each partnership on a case-by-case basis. In some cases they will negotiate a lower
annual fee in exchange for a higher percentage of recapture revenue if they believe the
agency will be very efficient about recapturing lost revenue.

This process could require a lot of work by the agency to eliminate yjr authorized
uses and identify the few unauthorized uses. The more legitimate uses an agency
licenses the bigger the process of elimination. It is unclear at this time how many
uses are likely to be discovered and the percentage of discovered uses that are

For agencies that make many sales through portals, or sub-agencies there may be a problem
in determining which uses were really authorized. The prime agency will know who used the
images they licensed directly, but if the image is also handled by a portal or sub-agency
the prime agency may have difficulty determining if it was licensed or not. Often portals and
sub-agencies report the size and type of use, but not the specific company to which the
image was licensed. Without such specific detail the prime agency will not be able to
determine if the use was legal or not.

Agencies wanting to use the PicScout Image-Tracker may first need to get their agency
partners and portals to share much more detailed information about their customers than
is currently the case.

The PicScout technology is also capable of searching images that are in print, but the
problem is getting a digital file of the print publication to compare the database too.
If an agency wanted to scan all the pages of certain print publications the technology
could then quickly compare all the images in the agency's database to determine which of
the agency's images were used. The problem with this concept is the time it would take
any single agency to do the scanning. This process is probably only practical if a
large number of agencies using PicScout join together and share the costs of scanning
certain publications. In the 4th quarter of 2004 PicScout may start scanning certain
publications and providing this service for an additional fee to those partners that are

Copyright © 2004 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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