Instagram is an incredibly successful social network, one with more than a billion users and the financial backing of Facebook. It’s a daily and essential app for millions of users around the world, one that’s become a ubiquitous part of our society. As you share photos and videos with your friends and family, of course, you might come across an obvious question: what happens to the rights of the photos you post on Instagram? As a photo sharing network first and foremost, the rights of photos posted online are more pressing than on Facebook or Twitter. Instagram pushes you to upload your best shots, and that often means work that could get you paid down the road. Plus, you wouldn’t want to turn around and see Instagram using your photos in advertisements, or selling your photos to third-parties.
As always, you sign over lots of your rights and privileges surrounding your data when accepting the terms and conditions of any social network. Whether your photos remain yours is bound to be covered in the terms of your agreement, so let’s dive into whether you actually own the photos on your Instagram account.
Content ownership and copyright
Copyright has been misused in the past, but generally speaking, it’s an important tool for creators of all sizes. It essential provides legal protection to content you create whether online or offline. If you have put work into it and created an original work, you will own the copyright to it. Better still, that right is automatic and needs no action on your part.
If you have the time or patience, the US Copyright Office has an explainer that tells you how copyright is applied and what it can and cannot protect. If you don’t have the patience to read it, you can copyright any original work you create such as a movie, novel, painting, poem, song, illustration and so on. You cannot copyright thoughts, ideas, facts, styles, systems or abstracts. If you come up with a unique way to express these things, you may be able to copyright that but not the ideas or facts themselves.
Does Instagram own the copyright of pictures you post?
So with that knowledge of copyright, does Instagram own the pictures you post? They do not own the copyright. You do. If you take a picture of something, you own the copyright to it. If you post the image to Instagram, you still own the copyright but usually give the company the right to re-use that content if they want to.
Permission to use content that you create and share: You own the content that you create and share on Facebook and the other Facebook Products you use, and nothing in these Terms takes away the rights that you have to your own content. You are free to share your content with anyone else, wherever you want. To provide our services, however, we need you to give us some legal permissions to use this content. Specifically, when you share, post or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (e.g. photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings).
Posting content online
As you can see, you retain the copyright of any picture you post on Instagram or anywhere else but you also give permission for the networks to use your content for their own gain. So you own the picture you post to Instagram but when signing up you gave them permission to use it as they see fit. One other thing you do need to be aware of is when your picture features other people. While you as the photographer retain the copyright for the work, if the people within the image are identifiable, you likely need their permission to post it online. The exception here is if you are paid as a photographer to take those pictures. Then the copyright is with the client and not of the photographer.
I’m no lawyer, so if you have a specific concern it makes sense to consult with a professional before taking action. Copyright is a deep and complicated subject and it will take someone with much better legal training than I to make sense of it!