I thought I had outsmarted the evil geniuses at Instagram (now owned by the shareholders of Facebook). But they’ve outsmarted me instead. More on that in a moment.
Let’s get to the bottom of this whole Instagram kerfuffle.
I have more than a few thoughts here. Mostly I’m hoping to provide some perspective. You know, a calming influence from a guy who normally loves to stir the hornet’s nest.
I actually think there’s nothing evil going on here. Instead, I would use a different word: Stupidity. And I’ve seen this stupidity many times, and I’ve seen many photographers react (perhaps I might use the term overreact in some cases) to this same stupidity.
Now, I’m a pretty pessimistic guy, I assure you. But I tend to think this was a case of stupidity rather than an even photo-grabbing plan. Allow me to explain.
Imagine, if you would, that you were going to start your own online photo sharing website. You’ll let pretty much anyone on the planet post photos on your site for free so those photos can be viewed by just about anyone else on the planet, also for free. Being a cautious fellow, you decide to consult with an attorney. And that attorney suggests you’re putting yourself at great risk, so you had better be sure that anyone who uses the site gives you permission to post the pictures, and also you had better be sure that you’re not going to be held liable if someone posts a photo they don’t own, or that could otherwise get someone sued.
As long as you’re imagining this scenario, imagine what the document would look like if you asked the lawyer to draft an ironclad end user license agreement. Pretty long, with lots of strong words, right? Heck, the End User License Agreement that covers my use of Adobe Photoshop (and other Adobe software) runs just over 10,000 words and spans 15 pages in a PDF document.
Anyway, if you’ll cut me just a little slack, I think we can all agree that in order for a company to feel comfortable with the whole publication-of-customer-created-content thing, they need to have a pretty solid agreement in place with their customers. And surely you can understand how they might go a little overboard in drafting that document.
So then the question is, do you really believe there was an evil motive involved? It’s possible.
I’ll give the Instagram/Facebook folks the benefit of the doubt, to a certain degree. I don’t think they planned to create some sort of photo stock library where they would license photos for money and share none of the proceeds with the photographer. But I would certainly believe that they figured they’d use the images here and there, for example as part of online advertisements. That’s not very cool.
Part of me figures a company would never do something like this, unless they were truly evil. There’s just too much risk of a big class action lawsuit, and frankly the benefits wouldn’t be all that significant in most cases. But you never know . . .
Anyway, I was really meaning to share with you my master plan for beating Instagram at their own game.
You see, I was going to start having some famous celebrity travel around with me at all times. Then I’d have them stand in front of anything I wanted to photograph for Instagram, so that their clearly identifiable face was included in every single photo I post. Then, if they sold that image for advertising use, without a model release, my celebrity colleague would sue, and hopefully share some of the proceeds with me. Brilliant!
Now, in fairness, I don’t actually know anyone (let alone a celebrity) willing to follow me around everywhere so I can include them in all of my Instagram photos.
But something else did cause me to be a little alarmed.
If I were the boss here, and this thing blew up in my face, I would make an unequivocal statement that customer-created content would never be sold in any way, and I would clarify what we would and would not do.
Instead, on the subject of using your photos in an advertisement, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said in part, “We do not have plans for anything like this. . .”
Uh, you just don’t have plans? But you’re not ruling this out? OK, now I’m worried.