Unfiltered: Photographers React to Instagram’s New Terms

2 minute read

It was a holiday surprise that few anticipated, and even fewer appreciated, as Instagram changed its terms/conditions of service on Monday, Dec. 17. Before the announcement, 2012 had been a landmark year for the photo-sharing service: in April, the service was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion, seeing a proliferation of users. Publications like TIME, National Geographic and the New Yorker have integrated Instagram in their editorial work — TIME has twice featured Instagram photographs on our cover this year — once for our Wireless Issue and another to lead our print coverage of Hurricane Sandy.

Instagram’s strength lies in the application’s no-fuss, integrated and intuitive interface — camera software tied to your phone (and now your Facebook account) that allow users to visually document everything from important world events to their breakfast. But as photographers adopted Instagram for creative and even professional purposes, questions arose about ownership, property rights and profitability.

According to the changes, effective January 16, 2013, any photograph posted on Instagram’s service can be repackaged and sold by Instagram for advertising purposes without the user’s knowledge or consent. In addition, by agreeing to the new terms, users are responsible for any legal claims that may result from the promotion or use of their images.

Long story short: Instagram can use your content to increase their revenue, and if a legal claim is brought against the company regarding how these images have been used, you (the user) might be responsible for the damages.

Adam McCauley

UPDATE (Tues, 5:25pm EST): Instagram has posted a statement responding to user feedback.

LightBox will be updating this post throughout the day as more photographers weigh in. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Photography is my passion, my calling, and my means of livelihood. It is how I provide for my family and send my children to school. Now Instagram and Facebook want to take my hard earned imagery — imagery that at times, I and others have risked life and limb for — and use it to generate income for themselves. What they have done is signaled the end and failure of what could have been a revolutionary social media platform for visual communication. Now, I must take a step back and reassess my place on Instagram. —Benjamin LowyBenjamin Lowy—Reportage by Getty Images for TIME
I am so deeply troubled by the whole social media movement. This is yet another example of how capitalism can create such wonderful products, technologies and services, but at some point the bite must come. We were fed high-grade drugs freely only to get hooked. Now that there are nearly one hundred million addicts (please excuse the hyperbolic metaphor here), the pusher man has decided to start charging. More specifically to my profession, what concerns me the most — as someone who relies on photography to make a living, support a family and employees in my studio — is that this is yet another rights grab. It falls in line with what media companies and publishers have been pushing for over the past decade: getting more rights for reusing our work without having to pay additional usage fees. I am torn. Instagram has become a wonderful form of creativity, social connection and, in the case of TIME's coverage of Superstorm Sandy and working with the New Yorker, a way to get paid for doing what I love doing — meaningful visual reporting and storytelling. Yet this company is now behaving in a rapacious manner that flies in the face of what myself and many of my colleagues have fought so hard for over the years: to protect our rights and control our work. What is tricky here is that Instagram is not taking our copyright away or our ability to reuse and financially exploit our work down the road. What they are doing is potentially making money and reusing our work, without our control and without further compensation. Furthermore, I would like to see a concerted effort by our profession to stand up to this rights grab. We are already paying for the app, so it's not completely free. I would say that if they don't relent on this policy by Jan 16th, I'll take my account down and create a new one that is just for fun. And, if I get more assignments to shoot and post on Instagram — which I hope will happen — then I'll at least have been compensated to create those works. —Ed KashiEd Kashi—VII for TIME
They have just killed Instagram. I will never use it under any circumstance with these terms. —Christopher MorrisChristopher Morris—VII for TIME
Although I do not agree with the new terms and conditions of Instagram, I wish I could say I won't use it, but I probably will. I am a professional photographer, but I don't use it for professional purposes. I use it for personal enjoyment, like a scrapbook. —Gillian LaubGillian Laub
To be honest, Instagram has always seemed like a cool experiment, but I figured that it would be something with a limited shelf-life because someone always gets greedy, and the Terms of Service for these social media sites are usually overreaching. For me, Instagram is such a great way to interact with other visual communicators, because we can use our own style and voice to instantly let people know what we are working on. In less than a year, I managed to build up an audience of more than 32,000 via Instagram and it has opened up doors to commissioned work, and interactions with an audience, that I never would have otherwise had. It also allowed me to feel, if only for a short while, that I was closer to my fellow photographers around the world. If Instagram does not change their terms to be more respectful of the needs of the professional photography community, then I will likely leave the platform once the new terms go into place. That said, I believe that Instagram needs the professional community to remain involved in order to further validate their platform. Otherwise Instagram will end up as the graveyard for photographs of sunsets, cats and plates of food and the cool factor will be long gone. —Matt EichMatt Eich
I am a photographer, and I'm an optimist. I love life, and I love photographs. If I'm not making them, I'm looking at them. I crave pictures, and Instagram fulfilled my appetite. Not only could I see what my friends and colleagues were seeing around the world, but I could share with them what I was seeing.That's what I loved about it! What else could a visual storyteller ask for, really? However, I have to leave Instagram because I don't believe in giving my photographs away for commercial use for free. It's disappointing because Instagram has the opportunity to do the right thing and support and celebrate this inspiring communication tool, and yet, they're not. Instagram has unfortunately become Instagreed. As much as I held on tightly, I'm going to let go lightly. I hope they change their mind. —Landon NordemanLandon Nordeman
If you want a free, fast, beautifully designed, complex digital image platform on your telephone that enables you to communicate in a revolutionary new way with an ever expanding global network with no strings attached, build one yourself or quit your whining. I'll be more annoyed when they start hosting ads in the feed. —Tim BarberTim Barber
I will leave Instagram if they don't change the terms. Beneath the chipper and misleading surface patter on the [service’s] intro page, the terms are deeply exploitative. It's a bizarre decision to me. Professional photographers have brought legitimacy and an audience to Instagram. Publications like TIME and The New Yorker are using it as a new way to distribute content. Surely, this has tremendous value for them. Does it really make economic sense to alienate their core users? Instagram has been fun these past few weeks, but with these terms it won't be hard to leave behind when the new terms take effect. —Peter van AgtmaelPeter van Agtmael—Magnum
As a cautious optimist, I have my fingers crossed that Instagram will listen to the voice of the community and reverse the new proposed terms of service, but I'm not holding my breath. I don't feel like debating the terms of service or being too nostalgic about the old days of Instagram. I feel that it's much better just to take our work and more importantly friendship and conversation to another place that truly respects our rights and ownership as creators. In the end, it’s about protecting the people I photograph, whether it’s my daughter or someone on the street, I don’t want to have to feel like the subjects of my pictures could potentially end up in places where I never intended. I'm getting ready to move my 'social photography party' to a new location. Until then, I'll be posting elsewhere. I'll keep my account open until January 16 so that I can follow the developments and continue to be optimistic about a possible change. But even if Instagram does reverse the TOS, it will be a challenge to win me back. Instagram is under such tremendous pressure to monetize that even if they back off now, I’ll still be afraid of what’s coming. I just don’t think Instagram is the same place it was when I started and I don’t think it will ever be again. Things change and I can accept that, but not at this cost. —Richard Koci HernandezRichard Koci Hernandez
As photographers I think we need to weigh why we use Instagram. As long as we don't post pictures that are part of our central archive, as some photographers tend to do, and we don't post images of people we feel would have issues with being used as advertisements, then I would advise people to continue to use it. It can be a very powerful tool. It is a shame that I will need to think seriously about posting images of people and maybe Instagram will see this in the future and modify the terms to protect them.Until then, I will need to be that gatekeeper. But I will still be using it, maybe with a little more thought about content than I used to do. Instagram is not just a place to post, but a place to follow and digest friends and people I admire, if they have different views and stop posting the whole product becomes pointless. If Instagram's terms create that exodus, they will destroy a great product. —Marcus BleasdaleMarcus Bleasdale—VII
The new terms of services really remove the editorial aspect of the application. As a photographer, I don’t compensate the subjects of my photographs because I know I’m not going to sell the images for advertising purposes. With the new rules, the language seems to imply that if you take a picture of someone, it can be used. What would be nice, is a platform created to enable people to be creative without bowing to the financial pressures behind it. The latest changes reflect poorly on the individuals behind Instagram: they had a billion dollars waved in front of them and they couldn’t resist. I would be more inclined to buy an app that protected my rights, than a free application that compromises what we do. I think it’s up to us, as photographers, to find another avenue to publish while protecting our craft. —Richard RenaldiRichard Renaldi
As wonderful as the solidarity in deleting Instagram accounts due to their usage right changes is, nearly the exact same usage rights have been in place on Facebook image postings for a long time now — remember, FB owns Instagram. If deleting Instagram makes us feel better — and I can understand the immediate reaction why — then we should also delete Facebook accounts or never post images on FB without a leopard skin covering of watermarks on photographs. We all need to watch where this desert dust storm settles a bit, however, we should not let up one iota the pressure on Facebook (the people who OWN Instagram) to change their policy. If they choose not to change by Jan. 16, and insane levels of watermarking does not help, then it would indeed make sense to depart ways with Instagram. —John StanmeyerJohn Stanmeyer—VII/MSF
It bothers me that, when an organization with over 100 million users needs to create revenue, they do so by taking rights away from those users. The language of the new terms is so insulting — it takes everything but gives nothing. As photographs continue to become devalued through a number of practices, I've tried to stay optimistic. I've tried to adjust my thinking and recognize that we're not able to keep a model that monetizes every interaction someone has with our photographs - instead, we can use the 'followers' we gain as clout for other opportunities, be they assignments, grants, etc. But when the terms effectively strip away all the rights I have to an entire body of work, that model isn't viable either — and just as I'm getting over monetizing all of my work and instead focused on getting it out there, Instagram turns around and monetizes it anyways, cutting me out of the loop. —Peter DiCampoPeter DiCampo
Instagram has encouraged professionals to participate by promoting "Suggested Users" and popular imagery on the mobile application. But the new terms of service announced Monday do just the opposite. Photographers and publications will have to consider the value of images posted, as they will be giving them away for unrestricted use to one of the largest companies in the world. The terms of service also grant Facebook the right to use contributors names and likeness for advertising. I will have to dramatically reduce my posts on Instagram under the new terms of service. In the end, I may just close my account. —Brooks KraftBrooks Kraft—Corbis for TIME
Can't say this is unexpected, as the new terms are the exact same as Facebook's own. It was a lot of fun showing and viewing pictures on Instagram. But we're all clearly building up these companies to become the biggest, most far-reaching stock imagery agencies out there — companies that will compete with us all…Oh well. Like many, I'll now reconsider my engagement with Instagram, but there is still a bit of time to see how this plays out before the new rules come into effect. If not, there are so many channels one can use to show images nowadays, I'll migrate to wherever makes sense. —Jonas BendiksenJonas Bendiksen—Magnum
If we are using a free service, we will ultimately become the product. We see this with Facebook's treatment of our personal data; now we are seeing it with our photographs. It will be hard to roll back this process but I’m a strong believer that we will need two things in order to sustain the world of photography in the future: First, we need to build a community of like-minded people who understand the scope of our work and want to be a part of it. Instagram was a nice way to build communities — until now. Secondly, we need to make a living — and therefore monetize what we do. Photography has never been as popular as it is today. We, professional photographers, need to realize that it is time to alter our relationship with the public, and the freedom that this will require necessitates a different financial backbone. This financial support won’t come from traditional sources such as magazines or organizations. Instead, it will come from a community willing to pay for unfiltered, quality information and content. These communities are out there, but don’t look for Instagram or Facebook to give you a cut. —Karim Ben KhelifaKarim Ben Khelifa
I use my Instagram account as a visual journal or diary of sorts. I mostly post what my family and I do on a daily basis, which of course includes photos of my children. The new terms of service are not totally surprising knowing that they originated at Facebook. I have to admit it does seem like a game changer: a suicide note, as the blogosphere has deemed it. I am mostly concerned that I will have no control over where they would place or to whom they would license my images. Furthermore, my children's faces. It's sad that they are so focused on making money because it really has become quite a revolutionary in the social media platform. I'm not sure if I will ultimately quit, for now I am going to take a break and see how it plays out. —Jesse BurkeJesse Burke
Unless they revise their terms of service, I will delete my account. I would never agree to allow Instagram the right to sell my images commercially without any compensation, nor the right to use my account and its contents in any way they see fit or necessary. Their new terms absolve the photographer of any rights and privacy. —Lynsey AddarioLynsey Addario—VII for National Geographic
I was sad to hear about the new changes to Instagram terms of use and so will be deleting my account before Jan. 16. I've enjoyed sharing iPhone pictures through my account, VII's, The New Yorker and National Geographic accounts, but will post images directly to Twitter instead in the future. —Anastasia Taylor-LindAnastasia Taylor-Lind—VII
Because I occasionally post images on Instagram that aren't taken with my camera phone, but rather images taken on film, scanned and resized for Instagram, I'll be leaving. Yes putting images on the web immediately relinquishes a lot of control from the artist. Things get copied and copied and moved from one website to another with the creator having little to no knowledge. That is something I've come to terms with a long time ago. At the same time allowing people to share and appreciate work I make is important. However, when it comes to a corporation actively making money off anyone's work with no compensation to the creator, that I have no patience for. There is a certain expectation today of so much coming for free, that people need to take a stand when it comes to original content and the rights we have over it. —Ryan PflugerRyan Pfluger
I started using Instagram this year to post behind-the-scenes photos from a National Geographic magazine assignment in Peru to the @NatGeo account and my own. Instagram has just made their service totally incompatible with anyone who wants to protect their images—and more importantly the people in them—from commercial exploitation. What's especially disturbing is that even if you delete your own Instagram account, your face could still be used without permission or compensation in an advertisement if it was posted on someone else's account. Working as a professional, I would never use someone's likeness for advertising purposes without first obtaining a model release. By grabbing rights beyond social sharing or even editorial use, they've crossed the red line. —Tomas Van HoutryveTomas Van Houtryve—VII
I'm not sure if I'll stay with Instagram or not. Sharing and crowdsourcing has kind of let the digital pandora out of the box. It has some immense upsides in terms of reach and marketing and those are things that I find really interesting. The downside is that the new terms include the potential for resale and re-purposing of our images. That said, if I were to speculate today, I think it has more to do with minimizing liability between partners Instagram shares with than it does with our work suddenly appearing on billboards advertisements. That kind of commercial use is really specific and something that usually requires a model release. Obviously most of us using Instagram in its purest form aren't releasing our images and that is something I would imagine will limit the things everyone is most afraid of. My candid thoughts: we live in an era of sharing. I'm not ready just yet to take my ball and go home. —Matt SlabyMatt Slaby—Luceo
I'm really disappointed by the new terms of service, but not the least bit surprised. I have 17,000 followers and have received both editorial and commercial Instagram assignments this past month and find it an important portion of my marketing. I also truly enjoy seeing my peers' work on this platform and hope changes will be made. I plan on staying on Instagram, as of now. —Kendrick Brinson Kendrick Brinson
I would hope that Instagram would have the respect and decency to ask photographers for permission to use the images they post on their accounts. If the new terms of service allow for a photo to be used at any time, without compensation, the photographer should, at the very least, have the opportunity to opt out. This is a common courtesy even offered by image stock stores - which is essentially what these new terms would turn Instagram into. I think if there were a choice given or some conversation allowing for the photographer to decide if they want their image (and username) used by an undisclosed third party for advertising, then maybe this wouldn't seem so domineering. After all, it is possible that some photographers appreciate the exposure or get a thrill from having their work used this way. The main concern I have is Instagram’s assumption of free and unrestricted "licensing" rights on the grounds that they provide a free social media. Although I love Instagram, losing the rights to my work for random advertisers is not what I signed up for--and no, I won't be keeping my account if this policy is implemented. If Instaram wants an exchange for their service I don't see why they don't just charge a membership fee. Since they aren't a non-profit organization and it's clearly a service a lot of people enjoy, I would imagine this being a more transparent and straight-forward way they could profit.—Alex PragerAlex Prager

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