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Yesterday, Instagram announced changes to the existing privacy policy and terms of service. These changes will go into effect on January 16th 2013. You can read the brief announcement here.

The impending changes have serious implications that could impact users in an extremely negative way. The most significant change is that Instagram — much like its owner Facebook — has now granted itself the perpetual right to sell user-generated content (images) without payment or notification being sent to the user. This means that Facebook has the right to sell all public photos that are shared by users on Instagram to companies or any other organization for advertising purposes. Unless users of the social sharing network delete their accounts prior to the January deadline, they will not be able to opt out of how their images will be used.

This change is clearly a business decision that was made to monetize a free app that has been used to share over 5 billion images at the time it was acquired by Facebook for $735 million. Three months after the acquisition, it now seems clear that Facebook plans to leverage Instagram to generate revenue by selling user information, as well as user-generated content to “affiliates”. An example? Instagram could take the images you snapped during your winter ski vacation, along with all of the location information and other metadata and sell it to the resort you were at to use in advertising. They don’t have to notify you, or give you any piece of the revenue generated from that sale of the content you created. This also means that it is possible your underaged children could be featured on a national ad campaign without your permission or even your knowledge of them being used in the advertisement.

Creative professionals who have been using Instagram to share their work with colleagues will be at risk of Facebook taking their intellectual property without permission or notification, and selling it to businesses or other organizations. A friend of mine who is a graphic designer was furious when I shared this change with her. As a photographer I completely understand her position on the matter.

The images or designs that we create are our products, and we create them just as a manufacturer creates products to be sold in a retail shop. You certainly wouldn’t agree with someone walking into a store, taking a product off the shelf without paying for it, and then selling it to another business would you? That’s right you wouldn’t, because that would be stealing which, in my opinion is wrong.

With these changes Facebook and Instagram are now allowed to steal your intellectual property and use it for profit without needing to even notify you or share what revenue is generated from the sale.  There are many cases of infringement where a photographer’s images were used without their permission, and the infringing party was required to pay huge damages for that misuse. Now, instead of needing to pay a photographer to create images for use in advertising, companies will be able to use any of the over 5 billion images shared via Instagram and pay Facebook instead of the image creator.

If that isn’t bad enough, as a parent I wouldn’t want an image of my daughter being sold and used by an organization to promote their products or services.  It’s outrageous to think of the implications of what type of business or organization the image could be sold to, and in turn how it could be used.  My first New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to delete my Instagram account to prevent any further piracy of my images by a social network, or misuse by the parent company that owns it.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel as though anyone has the right to sell my images other than me, and if you intend to, you better be willing to pay for it.


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