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Instagram's insta-drama over copyright licence

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 by  | 0 Comments

Photosharing site Instagram have today announced some major changes to its user policy: changes which have provoked immediate outcry.

Photographs are capable of copyright protection in the same way as other artistic works. Copyright in the photo is normally owned by the person who took it, who can then control how that photo is used and what payment, if any, is due for that use. However Instagram’s new policy would mean Instagram get a perpetual right to make commercial use of the photograph without needing to compensate the copyright owner.  Not surprisingly this has caused some controversy, one critic even calling it “Instagram’s suicide note.”

Under the new policy which will apply from 16 January next year, Instagram will obtain a perpetual right to licence public Instagram photos to third parties, for example for advertising purposes.  The current policy provides only a limited licence to Instagram to use the photos for the purposes of the Instagram service;  it doesn’t allow Instagram to make money from selling the photos.  However that will change next month. There will also be no right to opt out. If you continue to make use of the service from 16 January 2013 you will be granting Instagram this right to make money from your public photographs.

There of course is always the chance that Instagram will change its mind in relation to its new policy. Such u-turns are not unknown in the world of social media giants and how they treat their users. However we shouldn’t be too surprised that Instagram is seeking to make money from its content. It was pre-revenue when it was bought for the eye-watering sum of $1 billion by Facebook earlier this year. What clearly appealed to Facebook, other than the usability of the Instagram service, was the huge numbers of users obtained in a comparatively short space of time (33 million registered users in under 18 months).  Facebook was always going to look to ways to develop the service to allow a return on its considerable investment.

Another important point to bear in mind is that this new right of use only applies to photos made public on the Instagram site.  It doesn’t allow Instagram carte blanche to commercialise your lovely Christmas snaps if you have chosen to make them available only to family and friends.   It only applies to photographs which are made publicly available on the Instagram site. 

Whether those users will now delete their accounts and make use of the various new photo sharing and archiving services which are appearing remains to be seen.  However Facebook may well accept a fall in registered users as an acceptable trade off if it allows it to generate significant revenue from the Instagram content.

Andy Harris

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