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Popular photo-sharing site Instagram has caused outrage amongst its users by updating their privacy policy to allow itself the rights to sell user’s photos without notification or monetary reward.

Other changes that are being implemented by the website include the sharing of information about its users with Facebook, its parent company, as well as advertisers.

The announcement has caused uproar around the globe, with widespread condemnation of Instagram’s new policies. Twitter has been awash with threats of boycotts towards both Instagram and Facebook.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to some after Facebook’s vice-president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson said only a couple of weeks ago “Eventually, we’ll figure out a way to monetise Instagram”. Facebook purchased Instagram back in April for the princely sum of $1billion (£616 million). Many asked at the time, how was Facebook going to re-coup the money invested into what is a free and uncomplicated photo-sharing social network. Now, the answers appear to be known.

My Instagram Profile

Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organisation, including for advertising purposes, which would turn the website into the world’s largest stock photo agency. One Twitter user stated that “Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won’t have to pay you anything to use your images.”

Others have argued as to how legal the usage of certain pictures can be. For instance, if an Instagram user uploads a photo of me and I have no Instagram account (thus not agreeing to the terms and conditions) can Facebook legally use that picture for advertising purposes? What about model release clauses? It’s a real grey area. Imagine your girlfriend’s image being used to promote a pornographic website or your father’s face plastered onto an advertising campaign for child abuse? Unlikely perhaps… but theoretically possible.

What can be done to protect your photos?

Not receiving any money or credit for your work really is a kick in the teeth for photographers. If you have content on Instagram that you do not wish to share without compensation, here’s a few ideas of what you can do.

  • Delete your account: Users have until the 16th January 2013 to delete their Instagram accounts. If you upload photos after this date, then Facebook will have the rights to distribute the content as it sees fit… even if you delete your account after. If enough people delete their accounts, Facebook may wake up and realise that they cannot take yours and my work for free.
  • Move your work to another photo sharing site such as Flickr or Google+: Whilst Flickr has come a cropper in the past with backlash over photo usage, your work will not be distributed as per Instagram’s new policy.
  • Watermark your work: Now, I understand that this won’t work for photos taken and uploaded via your camera phone, but for all other pictures, watermarking may be a large enough deterrent for usage under the new terms.
  • Make yourself heard: Use the power of the internet and social networks to show your disapproval of Facebook’s new policy. If enough voices are heard, it’s likely they will back down – they have in the past.

Author – Stuart Tree

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