Instagram Sued Over Terms of Service

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 28, 2012

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Last week, popular photo-sharing app Instagram announced changes to its Terms of Service, only to be met with outrage from consumers and a class action lawsuit brought by a group of angry Instagram users. Language in the TOS suggest the digital photo app could essentially sell a user’s photos or other data for payment through sponsored content or promotions, without compensating the photo taker.

Reuters reports that a first civil lawsuit was filed and that a proposed class action lawsuit is waiting for action in a federal court in San Francisco. Included in the claims are accusations of breach of contract. A mandatory arbitration clause was also added to the new policy, meaning if a consumer feels wronged, they don’t have the option to win damages in a lawsuit and are bound to the outcome of arbitration. But consumers are most upset by the suggestion that selling their photos for profit without compensation may be part of the new deal.  

Instagram, which was bought by Facebook in 2012, responded to the outrage by removing parts of the new terms discussing the use of photos without compensation, but preserved parts allowing the company to “place ads in conjunction with user content,” reports Reuters. This would mean the company could still profit from user content.

Concerns are being voiced that even if an Instagram user chooses to cancel their account for fear of losing rights to their photos, they could still lose previously posted pics to the company and will have limited recourse if the mandatory arbitration clause is implemented. 

Instagram Retreats 

Due to the massive wave of dissatisfied customers, the latest reports say Instagram has revised language in their proposed TOS. The policy no longer includes a clause allowing the company to profit from user photos. But even so, Instagram has lost a reported 25 percent of their consumer base since announcing the new terms. 

Some are speculating that 25 percent is an insignificant number given the company’s millions upon millions of monthly users; and that the decline is a temporary trigger response to their policy alterations, which will not affect ongoing business. Others say that without corrective action, Instagram could be in danger of losing even more users as the holiday news reaches a bigger audience. 

With the bigger picture in mind, the use of third-party content apps and social networks is arguably risky business for any professional photographer interested in safeguarding copyrights. In a recent Facebook copyright hoax, users displayed the same outrage and demanded their content rights be preserved. But the fact remains that companies always have and always will alter their Terms of Use as they see fit and consumers should be aware that their agreement to use services through social network and app accounts can hinder copyrights they may otherwise enjoy. 

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