How Good Is Visual Image Search?

Posted on 9/27/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Photographers are discovering that Getty is being paid fees by Pinterest for images it doesn’t represent.
Back in 2013 Pinterest decided to try solve some of its copyright problems by doing a deal with Getty Images. Getty agreed to provide Pinterest with keywords and ownership information for Getty represented images that Getty found on Pinterest. Pinterest agreed to pay Getty a very small per image fee for that information.

Getty used its PicScout visual search tool to review every images on Pinterest, identify those that are in the Getty collection and supply metadata that Pinterest would then place under the image with a link back to Getty. If an image buyer wanted to use one of the Getty images the buyer could click on the link and go directly to to make a purchase.

Good in theory – but only if the right copyright holder’s names are attached to the images.

It’s also important to note that back in 2013 Shareaholic noted that Pinterest is the second-biggest referrer of traffic on the Internet after Facebook. Hence, maybe a significant number of image buyers start their searches on Pinterest when looking for images they can use. When they see those links to Getty they actually go there to purchase images.

Case Studies

Getty has told Pinterest that this image was taken by Mark Segal and is available on Getty Images. If you click on the photographer’s credit below the Pinterest image you will see that Segal does have an image of the Peyto Lake in Banff National Park in Getty’s Digital Vision collection (dv1581003). But, if you look closely the snow on the mountain tops and the cloud structures are different.

The real owner of the image is Kyle Prudence. Whoever pinned this image on Pinterest probably picked it up from Flickr. While Getty represents a number of Flickr photographers it appears that Kyle Prudence is not one of them.

Once a customer gets to the Getty Images site other images of Peyto Lake can be found.
Hans-Peter Merten has a similar image on Photodisc (149244901) and image (142745773) that is credited to Merten via the Robert Harding agency. The snow on the mountains and the clouds let us know that these are not the same images as Kyle Prudence’s image. Why was Segal’s image found instead of Merten’s?

Instead of saying “We’ve got this image,” Getty is saying, “We’ve got something like it. Come and see ours.”

Next we’ll got to the Greek island of Mykonos. On Pinterest this image is credited to (Photo by Hans-Peter Merten on Getty Images).  If we go to Getty Images and search for image 141766726 we find a wider view of a very similar image to the one on Pinterest. But look at the boats in the harbor. Merten’s image was probably taken on a different day.

A little more searching reveals that the actual image that appears on Pinterest was taken by Krishna Wu and can be found on Shutterstock as image number 35666605.

So, if an image buyer sees the image on Pinterest and clicks on the Getty Images link they will find Hans-Peter Merten’s images and probably think it is the same image?

Isolated Instances or Big Problem

Obviously some images are being mis-credited. Because of this some photographers are receiving very small payments from the metadata referral and possibly making sales that should rightfully go to different photographers. We have no way of knowing how frequently this happens.

It is easy to see how a PicScout search of images on Pinterest concluded that these images were the same as ones in the Getty Images collection. They were 99% the same, just not an exact copy of the image in Getty’s collection.

When it comes to travel images there are thousands of people taking images from the same prime locations around the world. Sometimes weather and time of day are the only thing that make a difference. How many images are 99% close?

Should Shutterstock make the same deal with Pinterest as Getty so PicScout will compare all the images on Shutterstock and Getty in order to find the closest match to any image found on Pinterest? And what about Alamy and AdobeStock? If we’re trying to identify the real copyright holder a more comprehensive search is needed.

Who Gets Paid

Pinterest pays Getty Images a fee when an image from the Getty Images collection is found on Pinterest. Earlier this year Anne Rippy reported that she was receiving $0.01 from Getty for every one of her images on Pinterest and that the sale was reported as $0.03 on her royalty statement. Others report that their sales are being reported as mere fractions of a penny and that they must generate enough of these sales, in addition to their other stock sales, to total $50 before they get a royalty payout. The fractions of a cent only appear if you dig down to the listing of downloads in the "connect transactions" text file.

It is also unclear whether the photographer is paid more than once for the same image. One payment is earned when Getty first locates an image and metadata is attached. But that image may remain on the site forever and possibly re-pinned by many other Pinterest users. Some photographers report multiple sales, returning fractions of a cent per sale, for the same image on Pinterest in the “connect transactions” text file.

From an image creator’s point of view the fractions of a penny may be insignificant. The real question is how many actual sales result from customers clicking on the links, and how often is that money going to someone other than the actual creator. We have no idea as to the volume of sales.

For more on Getty/Pinterest check out this link.

Copyright © 2016 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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