I have chosen a very bold title for this post: “The Truth About Instagram”. It is such a bold title that I feel like I should be writing a report on a police cover-up, political uprising or UFOs. As it is I am writing about Instagram, that’s right that photo app you use to make it look as if you are kooky and cool and have some ability as a photographer.
If you have read the news over the last couple of days you will be aware of the uproar surrounding Instagram’s new terms of service, which are effective as of 16 January 2013 ( a date seemingly plucked from a jaunty angled flat cap). Basically back in April Facebook bought Instagram for a whopping $1bn (£616m or €758m depending on where you are reading this), Facebook’s legal guys were then set loose on the Terms of Service and, unsurprisingly, came back with something that looks very similar to Facebook’s Terms of Service.
In particular changes were made as to the use that Instagram may make of the images that you upload to their service (I use ‘you’ as I presume that if you are reading this post then you are an Instagram user). As a start I would correct a major misconception that I have come across, the images that you upload are still yours, in fact the Terms of Service clearly state:
Instagram does not claim ownership over any content that you post on or through the Service.
This unfortunately is not how some ‘commentators’ have portrayed the situation and I have seen comments stating that Instagram is ‘stealing’users images or simply that Instagram will ‘own’ a users images. This is a nonsense – users retain ownership of their images. However if one carries on through the Terms of Service (accessible here) some more interesting provisions come to light, firstly:
This isn’t however noticeably different from the existing terms which state:
you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly (“private”) will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services.
The Terms of Service go on to say:
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.
Looking at the current Terms of Service the equivalent clause would be:
Some of the Instagram Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.
These clauses are certainly different, however after significant backlash, and the slightly surprising acknowledgment that “legal documents are easy to misinterpret” (which, particularly for a consumer facing business such as Instagram, is simply not a suitable justification) Instagram has explained that the terms will be re-drafted.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Instagram change the incoming Terms of Service but in the meantime the whole saga has been illustrative of just how powerful the internet, used as a medium for consumer back-lash, can be. Whilst much of the media reporting on the story has been pretty far off the mark in terms of the true effect of the clauses, and in actual fact these clauses are not so very different from their predecessors, they are still drafted in such a way as to potentially allow Instagram somewhat wide-ranging rights over a user’s images.
The real moral of the story is (and this applies to any content you place online) if you don’t want your images to get out then don’t put them online.