Pro photographers bristle at Instagram’s new terms of use

Soon to be starring in an Instagram ad?
Soon to be starring in an Instagram ad?
Image: Gloria Dawson
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This post has been corrected.

Instagram, the photo-sharing, filter-adding app owned by Facebook, was just beginning to be embraced by professional photographers, but the company touched a sore spot this week with new terms of use that have angered many shooters. The terms, which go into effect on Jan. 16, imply, that images on Instagram can be sold to advertisers without compensation and without the knowledge of their creators.

instagram rights
Do the terms of use look better with a photo filter?
Image: Gloria Dawson

An excerpt of Instagram’s new terms of use:

Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here: http://instagram.com/legal/privacy/.

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Quartz spoke to Benjamin Lowy, an international photographer who is represented by Getty Images and regularly works with the New York Times, Time, and other outlets. He is considered one of the pioneers of professional mobile phone photography. His image of waves crashing off the coast of New York as Hurricane Sandy moved inland was use on the cover of Time. The image was created using Instagram and was part of an experiment by the editors of the magazine that allowed Lowy and a handful of other photographers to take over the magaizine’s Instagram feed during the storm.

Lowy doubts that publications like Time will continue using their Instagram feeds in this way. “Why would you put original content on Instagram and allow Facebook to generate income for them?” he asked. The new terms of service feel like another hit to an industry that has had a complicated relationship with the internet, he said.

He had high hopes for Instagram.

“In this land of diminishing platforms for photographers and visual artists to showcase and communicate their work, this was a revolutionary platform because it allowed you to do that,” Lowy said. “This was like the Twitter for images. And it allowed us to bring images to a public that wanted to see it. “

The internet has made his profession harder, said Lowy. But Instagram represented the democratization of photography and a way to show your work on your own without the, uh, filter of an editor or a publication. Instagram was a safe spot for photographers’ work, but the new terms suggest a change.

“The internet has always been touted as this amazing tool of information and for bringing people closer to each other, but now the internet has become the world’s greatest photo copy machine,” said Lowy. “And everyone is trying to make money off of it. And they are screwing the little guy. Instagram is going to end up become the land of brunch and cats. Anyone who makes quality images is not going to want to post them there because we’re going to get taken advantage of.”

Lowy’s passions might not translate into a boycott of the platform, however,, particularly without a viable alternative. There’s a new Flickr app that has gotten a lot of buzz in the photography community, he said, but when Lowy logged tried it he was asked to sign up using Facebook.

“I’m faced with the reality of the shrinking viability of my industry. This was my one hope for me.  This was going to revolutionize the industry and give us different platforms for our work and another avenue to sell your work or to sell clients on your work. But that’s now gone,” said Lowy. “I’ll probably end up becoming a dive instructor on a tropical island somewhere. And then I’ll take pictures of my cat.”

Lowy wasn’t the only photographer venting about Instagram’s new terms:

Instagram pisses off 100 million people with a drunken text … oh, I mean new Terms Of Service.

— Prison Photography (@brookpete) December 17, 2012

Unless #Instagram changes its terms I will be deleting my account. I don’t work for free. #instathieves #instadelete wired.com/gadgetlab/2012…

— Bryant Hawkins (@bryant_hawkins) December 17, 2012

Hey, @instagram? Adding a clause to your Terms stipulating that you can steal pics doesn’t make it legal. Congrats on killing a great thing.

— Daniella Zalcman (@dzalcman) December 17, 2012

Instagram’s new Terms of Service Will Drive Talented Photographers Away.After Jan. 16, images from user ac instagr.am/p/TX-Qy9Km7h/

— Tomas VH / VII (@TomasVH) December 18, 2012

Inspired by #instagram etc I’ve launched new social media site called mugPuntr. 1: You sign up. 2: You give me all your money. 3: That’s it.

— Jeremy Nicholl (@Russian_Photos) December 18, 2012

Correction (Dec. 18, 2012): Instagram’s new terms of service take effect on Jan. 16 not Jan. 13. This post has been updated to reflect the correct date.