Will Instagram go the way of the telegram?

Happy New Year! I wish all my readers the very best for 2013. And what subject gets the first post of this year? Instagram of course!

As many of you will be aware there was something of a kerfuffle over a change to Instagram’s change of terms and conditions, which strongly suggested they would acquire the rights to sell users’ images to advertisers without permission or payment.

It was obvious from the moment Facebook had a fumble down the back of the office sofa for spare change and found $1 bn to buy Instagram that things would not stay the same. They’ll want their money back, one way or another, and the easiest way to achieve that is to have the ability to sell all the free content that is pumped into Instagram every day, not to mention a colossal backlog of images already there. The biggest library of mini images in the world.

Forget about whether the average Instagram photo is sellable or not, when something is that popular the infinite monkey syndrome kicks in. Among all the of photos of people’s pets and cappuccinos will be the occasional, arresting photo that might sit very well with a corporate ad. Don’t worry about image size either. Used small on a website, many smartphone photos will be adequate, and when the photo has zero cost to the advertiser, believe me adequate is more than adequate.

What interested me more than the nature of the T&C changes was some people’s reactions to them, specifically the reactions from people who have the opinion that if you’re an amateur your photos don’t matter, and if you’re a professional, why are you putting photos on Instagram or even on the web at all? Which I find an astonishing position to take.

I quote from one commenter (Shoogly Peg; real name I presume) on the BBC News website:

“Where, exactly, will these advertisers use your images when advertising? Where most people go obviously. Yes, social media websites, where you can already see an adundance [sic] of faces. Unless you are a pro photographer, no need to get bothered. And if you are a pro, why are you using this app?”

I’ll explain why I use Instagram. It’s fun. As a professional, am I excluded from having fun? Shoogly’s view isn’t an isolated opinion though. Whenever this kind of issue has popped up in the past, there have been comments about how professional photographers shouldn’t use the web to promote themselves, or that if they do have the audacity to do so, they should fully expect their work to be copied and used without permission or payment.

derelict building exterior in Frome

Sorry for having fun. I should leave that to amateurs

Clearly this argument is a nonsense. I get a fair bit of work through having a website, and I use the web to deliver images to clients. Am I not allowed to show my work without it being stolen?

Back to Instagram and their T&Cs, after patronizing us all with a statement telling us Instagram were sorry we were all too stupid to understand a legal document and not to worry our pretty little heads about it, they do appear to have reigned things back somewhat. The question is, what will they do to make money if they can’t sell user content? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough, but I’ve seen a few users empty or delete their accounts. I’m fairly certain Instagram won’t disappear, but I think it might lose much of its sparkle and will have to change into something it wasn’t intended to be if Facebook want to make money. Perhaps “the internet” is learning that you can have free or fun. Not both.

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  • laumerritt January 8, 2013   Reply →

    You’re right – Instagram’s non-apology was very patronizing. It’s fair for a service-provider to establish their own Terms and Conditions to say that they’ll own anything you submit to them voluntarily as long as your upfront. This trend of pushing boundaries two step forward, check how people react and come back one step just to push the boundaries once again later sounds very typical of FB. Alas, the internet is strewn with formerly popular spots turned into virtual ghost towns (MySpace for instance, though it might make a comeback). The problem is users are leaving their content abandoned (“orphan”) all over the place.

    • Glass Eye January 8, 2013   Reply →

      Hi Lau, thanks for your thoughts. You too are right that content gets left all over the place and while Instagram and others say “we don’t make any claims on your copyright, your content is yours” they sure as hell would like to exploit your works without requiring copyright. They don’t even need your copyright in order to exploit your works, just your tacit approval which they gain by you not opting out.

      I wonder if Instagram can go the way of sites like MySpace, or whether MySpace just failed because the product wasn’t quite right or the timing wasn’t right. We shall see!

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