Instagram’s new terms of service and why you should care!

Hey All,

A quick warning, this blog post may get a little ranty..

As many of you may already know, Instagram, recently changed it’s Terms of Service, which is not all that unexpected considering they were recently purchased by Facebook and have changed the way they do business. What wasn’t expected was the draconian and far reaching rights they assigned themselves in the changes.

Of particular concern are the following sections:

you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here:

And section 2:

you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

My main issues with the sudden change are:

  • I signed up to Instagram under a certain set of terms and conditions, these were acceptable to me and on that basis I joined and agreed to the terms of service.
  • It takes Instagram from being a photography based social network and turns it into a stock photography site, where the creator of the content isn’t rewarded for the value they’ve created.
  • The rights reach too far, they strip the rights of the content creator.
  • There are plenty of other methods they could have explored in order to create a profitable & sustainable company.
  • Severe privacy issues and complicated legal issues with “talent releases”

The huge mess that I can see Instagram getting into is the following.. a mum takes a photo of her child and wants to share it with her friends (and followers), she puts it on instagram.. Instagram sell the image to an advertiser and mum sees it.. She is under the assumption that when sharing a photo on Instagram that she is only sharing it with her friends, not with companies to use in advertising etc. There is no talent release for putting photos on Instagram, as is required for most images used for commercial purposes.. there is also nothing outlining what the photo can and can’t be used for.

This means that a company selling something.. I don’t know, say¬†hemroid¬†cream.. can approach instagram for a photo, buy the rights to use it and then use it as they see fit.. I’m not all that keen on anyone I know becoming the face of hemroid cream or viagra. I doubt there will be any recourse for this type of scenario, which isn’t as far fetched as it sounds! This is exactly why professional photographers have model releases, to limit usage to specific scenarios that the talent is comfortable with, or at least happy to get paid well for.

When you upload an image to Instagram you are agreeing that you have the rights to upload it.. which when it was a social network, was no different to sharing something on facebook / twitter / google+ or myspace.. now that it’s a stock photography site, it’s an entirely different story.

The counter-argument:

I’ve been presented with several opinions along the lines of “it’s a free service, what did you expect?”. My problem is not with them monetising it, I’m glad they are.. my problem is in the method they chose. I can think of a heap of alternatives they could have explored first:

  • advertising (duh), put in sponsored posts that are split by regions, topics of interest or hashtags etc.
  • freemium accounts, limit the number of photos a free user can post in any given month
  • premium memberships, pay to have unlimited usage, extra effects / filters / frames.. 100 million users, if only 5% pay $5 per month.. that’s $25 million per month. I’d have paid a couple of dollars per month for extra features for sure.
  • premium services – do what instacanvas are doing, offer prints / mugs / tshirts / whatever
  • business accounts – charge businesses to use it and help them build an audience with it.
  • PROFIT SHARING! If you really must go down the “stock photo” route.. pay those who produce the content, those who create great, sellable content should be rewarded.

What I’m saying is that I completely understand they need to be profitable, my point is they should have explored methods other than exploiting their users.

Personally I’m deleting my account and I’m exploring other options.. including continuing work on my own alternative to Instagram.


Paul Pichugin


It was good to see Chase Jarvis weigh in on the matter over at his blog… I highly respect Chase as he is where I want to be in a few years time in terms of commercial photography and production!


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