Instagram’s Copyright Problem

by | Dec 21, 2012

Instagram proposed changes to its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy this week, which would allow the image-sharing application to merge user data with its parent company Facebook and to display user photos in ads. The company cancelled some changes, but important questions remain about how Instagram will treat your content in the future.

Privacy and intellectual property advocates were outraged at the moves, and Instagram initially clarified that users own their photos and the site doesn’t have the “intention to sell” them. But they did not back away from claiming that Instagram has a non-exclusive license to site photos, and that they may, in the future, do anything they like with them — including sell them.

This contrasts with Yahoo-owned image-sharing site Flickr, which allows users to control image licensing.

Late Thursday night, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said the company was reverting to its original advertising policy. However, he left the door open to future changes: “We are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work,” he wrote in a blog post. Systrom did not address the plans to merge user data with Facebook.

Copyright law experts point out Facebook’s history of gradually increasing leverage over user content, and that the only way to completely protect your photos is to drop Instagram.

The changes are sharply different from how you expect [a/an ILS or] social media partner to treat your images and information. Before joining or continuing with Instagram, we urge you to consider the possible ramifications.