I recently decided to finally get on the Instagram bandwagon (shameless plug: follow me @jpdanko) and I came across what apparently is the widespread practice of “hub” users taking other user’s images and reposting them to their own feed as a “feature” photo (please forgive my wide eyed innocence…).
At a glance, this practice essentially seems to be a barefaced copyright grab – even if it does technically comply with Instagram’s Community Guidelines.
Photography, Copyright, Social Media and You
I think that among creative professionals, its pretty much understood that social media is a lawless wild west when it comes to copyright infringement – a land where copyright legalities are still being established.
However, for the sake of argument, Instagram’s Community Guidelines state:
Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.
As always, you own the content you post on Instagram. Remember to post authentic content, and don’t post anything you’ve copied or collected from the Internet that you don’t have the right to post.
That sounds great on paper, but the general understanding seems to be that if you tag a specific Instagram hub, or if you use a specific tag for a contest offered by a said hub, you are giving the hub moderator permission to repost your photo to their account with attribution to you.
This usually involves the Instagram hub page slapping their logo on your photo (in fact I’ve seen images with 3 or 4 different watermarks and logos on them all posted to several different hubs) and then re-uploading your image to their account and sharing your photo with their users – with the only condition being that your Instagram account is credited as the source.
(It should be noted that this is different than sharing a link – Instagram does not permit sharing links – the actual image has to be downloaded and a copy is re-uploaded.)
The currency involved in this transaction is followers – Instagram hub accounts have a large number of followers and in return for publishing your copyrighted work on their account (if you’re lucky) you might get a few new followers out of the transaction.
So Whats The Matter With That?
On the surface, nothing. Both parties benefit (although you could argue that the hub account owner benefits a whole lot more than the content creator).
However, if you dig a little deeper – the concept of simply using a hashtag as permission to publish copyrighted material should give creative professionals fits.
Further, this practice perpetuates the myth that simply providing credit is adequate payment for the use of photography and other visual art.
At the very least, hub accounts that exist solely to gain clout by re-appropriating the creative works of others are contradictory to the spirit of Instagram – users sharing photos of their own experiences in the moment.
Please Reply #Sucka For A Full Copyright Buyout
It shouldn’t be any surprise that giant multi-national corporations have taken this practice to a whole new level by sourcing creative content from social media to be used in big budget marketing campaigns – with no intention of offering monetary compensation to the content creators.
For example, in two recent cases Bud Light and Samsung approached social media users with a seemingly simple request to share their photographs on social media. In reality, the fine print would have provided Bud Light and Samsung with a full copyright buyout (something that should cost them several thousand dollars – depending on the actual usage) and permission to use these images for unlimited commercial use.
But hey, at least they’re using a hastag as a signature to a contract.
(I strongly suspect that there’s a millennial social media whiz kid who grew up with the concept that if its on the internet its free behind these examples – but we can’t blame the kids these days for everything – creatives need to stand up and protect their rights too.)
What Do You Think?
I’m really curious as to what you guys think of the current state of copyright infringement on social media.
On one hand, I have seen a definite growing awareness among big brands right on down to mommy bloggers that the creative content they source online is not simply free for the taking.
On the other hand, it seems like every other day there is an ever more obscene example of copyrighted work being stolen from social media with zero monetary compensation to the content creator.
Personally, I’m optimistic.
I think we’ve put the free-for-all days of creative content theft behind us – creative professionals and even everyday content creators are becoming increasingly aggressive towards copyright infringement. Tools like Google image search and websites like Photo Stealers make it increasingly easy to out content thieves.
Services like Pixsy are even starting to pop up with a business model based on pursuing fees from unauthorized use on your behalf (I’m currently beta testing their service – very interesting so far…).
However, as more and more creative content is shared online, sometimes it seems like an overwhelming task to enforce the rights of content creators.
I still think that its just a matter of time before there is a fully automated technological solution to online content use where copyright and licensing fees are embedded directly with the image / video / song / text – however, to the extent that Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. all benefit from unlicensed content – I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect that anytime soon.
The idea that you can sign away your copyright with an Instagram hashtag still freaks me out – but overall I think we’re slowly heading in the right direction.