What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for Photographers

Instagram - New Terms of Service

Note:  Instagram has since revised their Terms of Service, addressing the issues outlined below.

Yesterday, Instagram announced new Terms of Service which are already being referred to as their ‘suicide note’ by some photographers. These changes, which the NYT Blog does a good job of outlining, go into effect January 16. Anyone who accesses their Instagram account via a mobile app or website after that date automatically agrees to these new terms. There is no opting out. So, every single Instagram user now has to analyze how these changes impact them personally and decide whether it makes sense to continue using the service… and frankly, decide whether they can stomach continuing to use any service who demonstrates a complete disregard for issues such as privacy, trademark & copyright protection.

I’m a big Instagram user. I have been regularly posting my vintage sign photos to the service since early 2011. I personally have found it to be a great platform for sharing images, telling stories, getting feedback and connecting with other creative folks from around the world. Although I access the app on my iPhone, I am not simply sharing iPhone photos with my followers. I am sharing photos I have taken with a DSLR and ultimately plan to use for other commercial purposes. These are photos I have invested a lot of time, energy and passion into – something that I plan to fund my future with. As many photographers will tell you, Instagram is a fun, easy way to promote your work and capture a new audience. But it is not worth risking your work being licensed by Instagram to the highest bidder with complete impunity and no monetary benefit to the artist.

The bottom line is that anyone who is posting images that they plan to somehow monetize should delete their Instagram account before January 16.

Honestly, I’m disappointed. I enjoy the service and it has enabled me to connect with a lot of creative folks with similar interests who I now consider friends. I’ve met some great people and it’s been a wonderful experience… and it makes this latest announcement from Instagram all the more heartbreaking.

And while I do anticipate a mass exodus from Instagram over the coming weeks, I think that this will ultimately be little more than a speed bump on Instagram’s path to profitability. Think about it. Why would Facebook (who bought Instagram back in April) care if a small group of photographers are significantly impacted by this change? They need to monetize an asset they paid $1 billion to acquire. Collateral damage such as this is relatively minor and likely well within the range of what they consider ‘acceptable’ as they execute their master plan.

After all, the main users that Instagram seems to care about are teenagers & twenty-somethings. That is who Instagram needs to worry about scaring away – and exactly the ones who have no reason to be worried about what these new Terms of Service mean. Have you seen the images that appear on the “Explore” (formerly “Popular”) tab lately? These are not people trying to make a living from photography. Try this: Count how many times you have to hit refresh on the Explore tab before you find a screen not filled with “selfies”, boy band, pet & food pictures. Actually don’t waste your time – it may never happen. Generally speaking, Instagram is not a community of people who love photography; it’s a community of vanity and voyeurism overrun by Millennials.

So what can you do? Assuming that you have made the decision to leave Instagram, this is how I recommend going about it, and what I am planning on going myself prior to January 16.

UPDATE:  Instagram released this statement this afternoon in an effort to address theses concerns.  Most notably, it says:

“The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.”

It will be interesting to see how the new version reads and when it is released.  Stay tuned.

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