I definitely enjoy social media, but it’s time to start a big discussion about Instagram.

Reading blogs like this one below, from the well-known amazing photographer Daniel J. Cox, not only confirms my thoughts about Instagram’s lack of “changes” to their photo-rights-stealing terms, but has prompted me to start this talk online and reconsider dumping my Instagram account again.  Read Daniel’s point of view here: http://www.naturalexposures.com/corkboard/instagrams-new-policy-to-steal-your-photos-returns/

Here’s another great blog from Beate Chelette, the PhotoBizCoach, discussing the matter: http://www.photobizcoach.com/2013/01/23/instagrams-fake-changes-to-your-image-rights/?goback=%2Egde_4774947_member_20772942

I have to say though, when Nat Geo came back to Instagram earlier this month (after closing their account back in December with over 600K followers – their new account has over 870K), to me, it was a barometer for Instagram’s supposed change to their recent heavily criticized policy.  I thought, “Well, if Nat Geo isn’t worried about Instagram using their images – a company that prefers strict controls on their photographs to the point that they themselves co-own copyrights to the images their hired photographers have captured, then why should I be concerned?”  That got me wondering.  Is Nat Geo just not worried about their Instagram’s new terms?  Or maybe they set up some deal with Instagram- there’s lots of that going around these days with large internet companies.  Or maybe we’re all just getting fooled here.

What about other companies like the San Francisco 49ers, who I follow, and have over 250K in followers?  Or Coca Cola (only 3500 followers), or eBay (only 1900 followers), or the New York Yankees (85K).  What do they think about all of this?  They are still using the app.

When you read Instagram’s Terms of Service (which they also call their Terms of Use), you may begin to see my concern.  Here is part of it in their words:

These Terms of Use affect your legal rights and obligations. If you do not agree to be bound by all of these Terms of Use, do not access or use the Service.

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, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy

Doesn’t sounds like change to me….or at least change that photographers would agree to.  But let’s say you’re not a photographer, or you don’t make money from your photographs – why should you care?  Well, maybe you don’t want someone to use your personal photos for an ad without your permission.  What if that funny instagrammed photo of grandpa was used for a smoking ad, and grandpa happen to die from lung cancer?  Or it was used to see Depends undergarments?  Or they took a photo of your child and sold it to Dupont or Halliburton?  Remember it says “royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post”.  They can do any of this if you follow their words.

Having dealt with this before, I’m not a fan of giving my work away for free to mega-rich (or soon-to-be rich) companies.  Art is a commodity, as is photography, and we as photographers have watched our industry spiral out of control as business people, who realized how much money they could make off of our images, began to control the photo industry more and more.  Stock agency contracts changed with the photographers receiving less and less percentages, editorial rates stagnated and magazine contracts became another rights grab, all the while these companies made more profits that ever before.  

This all reminds me of the old line, “Everyone has learned how to make money off photography, except for photographers”.  

But I’ve refused to be a part of it in the past, and I will continue to pass on companies trying to use underhanded legal wording to get valuable photography for free.  Where has this gotten me?  Well I’ve been a full-time working pro for over twenty years, and I own all the rights to all my photographs – every single image.  Maybe my collection of work will be monetarily valuable to me or my family when I’m old or gone (I know it will be sentimentally valuable), maybe it won’t, but at least we’ll be able to control how my images are used when its time – because I own all my work and anyone who wants to use it needs written consent to license the rights from me for a fee.  See how the “r” is missing from that last word – not “free”, “fee”.

By the way, if you want to follow me on Instagram, my user name is “arbabi” – but I might not be there for very long.