20 Dec 2012

Should professionals use Instagram?

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Should professionals use Instagram? Should professionals use Instagram? Nancy Hill/RedShark

The new terms and conditions issued this week by Instagram caused a firestorm of public opinion. Instagram responded to clarify; but have they? What if you make your living from your images?

Professionals—be wary of Instagram. Very wary.

In April of this year, Facebook acquired photo-sharing app Instagram for a whopping $1 billion. At the time of acquisition, Instagram boasted some 27 million users and with its social network aspirations became a very logical target for Facebook.

Now Instagram/Facebook has posted new terms of service effective January 16, 2013 with some significant implications for professionals.

Terms Of Service

Few of us ever read TOS (Terms of Service) disclosures and the natural tendency is just to click OK to rid ourselves of screen clutter. But anyone who actually read Instagram’s proposed TOS would have deduced that Instagram reserved the right to use posted photos in any way it desired.

Instagram also reserves the right to place advertising on any users’ page. We have come to expect ads where we are getting something for free, yet there are host of issues associated with random ads. What if a site places an ad on my page for a product or service which I find objectionable? Or for a potential competitor?

Posters still retain ownership of images but that is a rather moot point in an environment in which the on-line service could simply use one’s images.

The new TOS preserves the right to place advertising on a user’s page and maintains the current ownership policy.

Carte blanche?

The initial TOS revision stated that users’ images can be utilized “in connection with paid or sponsored content.” This could effectively mean a carte blanche licensing of any of one’s work without any royalty payments to the owner. Over the next few days, objections to this language proliferated, based upon a concern that users’ photos might be sold by Instagram for advertising with no compensation to photo owners.

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom responded in his blog post that people were misunderstanding the legalese of this TOS document, that there was no intention for Instagram to sell users’ photos for Instagram’s benefit and that newly clarified language will soon be posted.


I remain skeptical. Also included in Systrom’s blog was the following paragraph:

“To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.”

There remains a certain ambiguity. Content or personal information could show up in a business that one is following? Sounds like the use of images or personal information in an advertisement from which Instagram is benefitting? And the user is not benefitting.

Significant clarification still needs to take place.

Ned Soltz

Ned Soltz is a veteran shooter, editor, consultant, author and industry expert. He is Contributing Editor of DigitalVideo Magazine and is a frequent contributor to numerous print and web publications as well as podcasts. Ned was among the founders of the LA Final Cut Pro User Group (now LA Creative Pro User Group) and is currently president of the New York City user group Mopictive NYC.

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