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5 Ways Instagram Misleads Photographers — and what you can do about it

…. Instagram Abuses, Exploits, Takes Advantage of…

5 Ways Instagram Misleads Photographers — and what you can do about it

“We’re no longer a square photo-sharing app,” stated Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announcing the platform’s latest pivot. Shortly after, a wave of criticism from the photography and digital art community took social media by storm. Many viewed it as a signal that Instagram is no longer concerned about creators nor interested in providing them with any support.

While TikTok is overtaking Facebook as the most downloaded app and Gen Z is migrating from Facebook’s apps to ByteDance’s video-focused platform, the company is testing drastic changes in Instagram to make it more like the Chinese rival. Although this might sound like shocking news, in the eyes of photographers, “Instagram stopped caring about artists and independent creators a long time ago,” as Bryan Minear told DPReview.

By refusing to provide support for creators, Instagram has become the perfect place for freebooters to use and modify other people’s content to boost sales of their products. As a result, many photographers are leaving Instagram and signing up on Twitter; searching for a genuine and supportive community.

But for some photographers with businesses entirely based on social media, Instagram is the primary source of income. The cost of leaving the platform is far greater than staying in it. That said, here are five things you should know about Instagram — and what you can do about it.

5 things you probably don’t know about Instagram

From a troublesome takedown process to an algorithm that encourages content piracy, one can conclude that making freebooting as easy (and rewarding) as possible is among Instagram’s high-priority objectives. Here’s why:

From a troublesome takedown process to an algorithm that encourages content piracy, one can conclude that making freebooting as easy (and rewarding) as possible is among Instagram’s high-priority objectives. Here’s why:

1. Yes, Instagram (in a way) owns your photos

Like many social media platforms, Instagram relies on your content to operate and sustain its business model. Hence, granting a so-called ‘legal permission’ to Instagram is necessary for using the network. But what exactly is this license? What rights do you give away by signing up on the platform?

The details are buried in a 5000-word terms of service written in legalese. When you share photos on the platform, you give Instagram a “non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide” license. The above permission gives the platform the right to use, modify, share your content, and even sell your photos to third parties around the world. And all of these can be done without notifying, providing any compensation, or asking for the creator’s consent. In other words, the second you publish your images, it also belongs to Instagram (and, of course, Facebook).

Bear in mind, if you posted your pictures in an exclusive forum, sharing them on Instagram would be a breach of that contract. So next time, think twice and make sure you’re OK with giving away control of your work to Instagram before hitting the publish button.

2. Instagram might keep your photos (and the right to use them) forever

Instagram’s license ends when you remove your pictures (or your account) from the platform; they no longer have the right to use your content. In theory, it sounds like a quick and easy process, but in reality, it might take weeks to delete your content. After pressing the ‘delete’ button, you may have to wait 30 days for the process to start. According to Instagram, “It may take up to 90 days to complete the deletion process after it begins.”

However, your photos still remain in backup storage for an additional 90 days. So if my calculations are correct, you may have to wait up to 30 weeks to remove your content from Instagram. But how can you be sure your photos are entirely deleted from the platform? Instagram’s answer is simple: you just can’t be sure!

Even after the deletion process takes place, the timeline can change if “others have used your content in accordance with the Instagram license and they haven’t deleted it; due to Technical reasons; Some administrative/legal issues as outlined in this section of the Terms” as stated by Instagram. Thus, your content may stay in the system AND be subjected to license ‘till the end of time’.

3. Instagram wants you to report fewer copyright infringements

Intricate and tedious, this is how photographers describe the takedown process on Instagram. Although on a handful of occasions, Instagram may spontaneously remove your content from other pages, in most cases, you’ll be better off sending the takedown notice directly to the owner of the page.

For submitting your takedown request through Instagram, you’ll need to visit the Help Center. After reading a long text and filling in some required fields, Instagram will follow up with an email, asking for further explanation to support your claim of ownership. And the platform won’t proceed with your takedown notice until evidence is provided and all questions answered. But since it’s been a few days (if not weeks), and the page’s owner already sold some goods using your images, it may be pointless after all to delete your photo.

By making the takedown process difficult and time-consuming, Instagram deliberately deters content creators from reporting copyright infringement.

By making the takedown process difficult and time-consuming, Instagram deliberately deters content creators from reporting copyright infringement.

4. The Instagram algorithm encourage piracy and favors freebooters

Feed algorithm, or simply the algorithm, is a prominent — and probably most controversial — part of social media platforms. Your Instagram feed is unique and curated based on the likelihood of your interest in a post and your relationship with a particular page. Moreover, you can increase the chance of appearing in the feed and explore section by posting more frequently.

This is where freebooters have the upper hand on Instagram. So-called ‘community pages’ attract thousands of followers and make hundreds of dollars (and more) in profit using photographers’ work, who often do not receive the credit they deserve. But why are these pages allowed to operate and grow despite the breach of copyrighted content and overlooking creators’ rights? The answer lies behind the scenes, hidden somewhere between countless lines of code: the Instagram algorithm. The platform is designed to favor users who post regularly and often, encouraging copyright infringement and sharing unauthorized content.

5. Instagram intentionally ignores photographers and their rights

Every month or so, Instagram rolls out new updates, promoting unique features and expanding its range of services. Yet, the platform has yet to provide a tool to help photographers keep track of where their content is being used or at least a tool for notifying them of unauthorized use of their work, which would be a game-changer for creators.

Furthermore, Instagram declared they will suspend accounts that regularly infringe copyright law “when it’s appropriate”. In other words, the platform will stop freebooters, but only when it becomes a problem for Instagram. From Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision to Mosseri’s video-focused Instagram, it seems Facebook and Instagram forget about photographers, who, in fact, boosted the early growth of the platform.

Here’s how to protect your photographs on Instagram

Have you ever tried to fold a piece of paper more than 7 times? Though not impossible, it demands a great deal of effort. It’s so hard that if you fold your paper more than 13 times, your name will be in the Guinness Book of World Records. Protecting images on the internet feels the same for photographers. Without any support from social media, it has become nearly impossible for content creators to control their work online. However, some solutions can potentially help you reduce copyright infringement.

Without any support from social media, it has become nearly impossible for content creators to control their work online.

Watermarking

First appearing in the 13th century in Italy, watermarking can be nominated as the most ancient way to protect your work. Although there are many criticisms around watermarking, putting copyright notices on photos is the go-to solution for many photographers to deter users from stealing content and encourage them to buy images legally. But even when placing watermarks on the middle of your pictures (which ruins your composition), still somehow, your work ends up on another’s page without your name and permission. Given the culture of Instagram and the availability of various tools to circumvent watermarks, your copyright notice can be easily cropped out and removed.

Strength:

  • Easy to use
  • Cost & time effective

Weakness:

  • Won’t stop others from stealing your content
  • Can be easily removed
  • Potentially can undermine your composition and image

Editing metadata

Providing evidence is how you can validate your claim of ownership (and, of course, win a copyright infringement case in court). Writing your copyright info in metadata is a potential solution to prove authorship over the content. You can use Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop for editing metadata, and unlike watermarking, it won’t ruin your image and halt your reach. But similar to the previous method, writing your copyright notice in metadata won’t stop others from using your content without asking for permission. Plus, there are several tools that allow users to remove metadata in just a few clicks.

Strength:

  • Cost-effective (free)
  • Won’t ruin your image

Weakness:

  • Won’t stop others from stealing your content
  • Can be easily removed or altered

Uploading pictures in low-resolution

Instead of posting your image in the highest resolution possible on Instagram, you can try uploading photos in the lower resolution (600×600 px), referring visitors to your website to buy the premium version of your pictures. Established photographers with a huge community on their websites can potentially benefit from this approach. But similar to the two previous solutions, this method won’t stop copyright infringement and can even damage your professional image.

Strength:

  • Cost-effective (free)

Weakness:

  • Potentially can undermine your professional image
  • Can lower your reach and engagement
  • Won’t stop others from using your content

Registering copyright

In many countries, from the very moment you press the shutter, your work is protected by copyright. But if you are willing to go the extra mile (and if you’re based in the US), you can register your image in the Copyright Office to prove your claim of ownership. This way, you’ll have a much higher chance of winning the copyright infringement case in court. But if you possess thousands of photos, this method is not economically suitable for you and can be rather time-consuming.

Strength:

  • Potentially increases your chance of winning the copyright infringement case in court

Weakness:

  • Time-consuming
  • Can be expensive
  • Won’t stop others from stealing your content

OriginStamp

As a novel way to protect your photos online, OriginStamp’s blockchain timestamping claims to help prove ownership over your content. Although using this technology can be pretty expensive for an extensive portfolio, it can still be a way to win a copyright infringement case. But since nobody can guarantee the authenticity of the uploader of the image, many courts do not accept blockchain timestamping as evidence of your claim of ownership.

Strength:

  • Can simplify the process of proving your claim of ownership

Weakness:

  • Can be expensive
  • Does not verify the contents’ authenticity and can be rejected as sufficient evidence by the court

PhotoClaim

On a mission “to educate users to buy pictures legally, instead of stealing,” PhotoClaim acts like a matchmaker between photographers and copyright attorneys. The platform monitors your photographs and, when they find an unauthorized use of your content, they assign you a local “Guardian” (AKA attorney) to proceed with the image theft case. Using PhotoClaim, you can take action against copyright infringement and receive compensation for your work without signing up on uber-expensive yearly-billed plans. However, keep an eye out for commissions; they can be as high as 45% whenever you win the case.

Strength:

  • Potentially helps you get fair compensation for your work
  • Easy process without any fees before the settlement

Weakness:

  • High commissions
  • Won’t stop others from stealing your content
  • Since, in many cases, the final compensation is super-low, it’s pointless to take any legal action

Pixsy

Awarded as “Best Online Image Protection Platform”, Pixsy is a go-to service for many established photographers to keep track of where their content is being used and start taking legal action. Pixsy assists you to find and deal with copyright infringement using a diverse range of integration and ready-made takedown notices. But like all of the above solutions, Pixsy is only applicable when your work is already exposed to image theft.

Strength:

  • Easy to keep track of where your content is being used
  • Quick and easy to take legal action

Weakness:

  • Won’t stop others from stealing your content in the first place

Today social media and big tech dictate the terms for photographers — here’s how photographers can set their own terms for their work

The main problem with today’s ‘solutions’ is that none of them can truly help us maintain control over our work when sharing and publishing online. That’s why here at Kelp, we’re working on a technology platform that empowers creators to protect their photos on the internet.

The main problem with today’s ‘solutions’ is that none of them can truly help us maintain control over our work when sharing and publishing online.

Founded by photographers and creative economy enthusiasts, Kelp.Digital is built for all digital creators to set their own terms for their work. By connecting the concept of copyright in the digital world to the concept of ownership in the physical world, Kelp.Digital verifies original work and protects the photos you share with legally binding digital copyright statements. For each photo shared through Kelp, we create a unified link, allowing you to set up who can use your content, where, and for how long. If you want to hear more about the project and be among the first to try Kelp.Digital, sign up on our waitlist.

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Protecting creative work all over the internet.

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Ali Eskandari

Ali Eskandari

No Paradox. No Progress.

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