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Does Instagram Own the Pictures & Photos you Post?

Posted by Jamie on November 13, 2018

Does Instagram own the pictures you post? Who owns the content you upload to social networks? Two questions that came up during a discussion in the office the other day that were intriguing enough for further research. The answers were so interesting I thought you might like to know too.

We all share too much data on social media. Sometimes accidentally, sometimes because we just over share. We all know that the social networks make their money from this data but it doesn’t stop us. Which brings us to the tricky question of who owns that data. It is not a question with a simple answer.

You sign away lots of rights over your data when you accept those terms and conditions that you didn’t read. Somewhere in there is likely to be a clause about ownership of data posted on the particular network and how it can and cannot be used. The exact nature of these agreements depend on where in the world you live.

Content ownership and copyright

Copyright while massively misused by big business is actually there to protect us. 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.

Here is what Instagram has to say about the matter in their terms:

‘Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, 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, available here http://instagram.com/legal/privacy/including but not limited to sections 3 (“Sharing of Your Information”), 4 (“How We Store Your Information”), and 5 (“Your Choices About Your Information”). You can choose who can view your Content and activities, including your photos, as described in the Privacy Policy’

Instagram are in the process of updating their terms so this may change.

Facebook has this to say:

‘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!

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