Instagram’s new content license (it still doesn’t own your content)

Rian van der Merwe posted a tweet asking me to comment on the changes to Instagram’s Terms of Service:


Rian posted the new license from the terms on his one blog and I took a quick look at it (I am in a lock-down here at work so I haven’t had time to review the full terms for this post). The new license states the following:

Instagram does NOT claim ANY ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials (collectively, “Content”) that you post on or through the Instagram Services. By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly (“private”) will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services.

Rian’s (and, I’m sure many other people’s) concern is nicely summed up in the rest of his post:

Here’s my non-lawyer interpretation:

We don’t own your stuff, but we can do whatever we want with it.

Which kind of sounds like it can be shortened to:

We own your stuff.

Any lawyers out there who can clarify what’s going on here?

Instagram logo 1The subtext here is that the Facebook acquisition has poisoned this popular service and Facebook is encroaching on Instagram users’ rights over their content. As Web services go, this content license is typical and hardly a land grab which it may be made out to be. As I mentioned in my previous post about the Google Drive license terms –

This clause clearly states that Dropbox doesn’t claim ownership of your data but the more important set of provisions are those dealing with the license Dropbox takes from its users when it comes to accessing and making use of the data you upload to Dropbox. Bear in mind that all of these services will have a license of some sort. A license is a set of permissions you, as the user, give to the provider and that enables the provider to receive, manipulate and otherwise handle your data. It’s an essential component and nothing to be alarmed by in itself (at least not if you are comfortable with the basic idea of a provider having access to your data as part of your use of the particular service).

Instagram’s license is fairly broad but it could be even worse. The license is basically designed to enable the service to operate. In the absence of a specific license Instagram could fairly convincingly argue that the permissions set out in this license would be implicit in the unspoken license users would grant to Instagram merely by using the service. In other words, when you use Instagram, the license provisions are implied by your use.

By comparison, here is the license Facebook takes from you:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

What I find interesting about the Instagram license is that it is implicitly in favour of Instagram, Inc (the company behind Instagram); it isn’t transferrable and it isn’t even sub-licensable. This means the license is limited to Instagram and you don’t give Instagram the right to license your content to Facebook or any other party. The wording is a little unclear because the license gives Instagram the ability to distribute “part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels” and yet it doesn’t permit the content to be sub-licensed or to transfer the license to another party. This is probably a flaw in the license language because it is notionally problematic for anyone to consume other users’ posts in a way that would require those consumers exercising the user’s rights under copyright and which is not covered by an exception to copyright infringement like fair dealing or fair use.

Moving away from the legal geekery, the new Instagram license is not a land grab. It is a pretty reasonable license given the nature of the service and doesn’t equate to “We own your stuff”. Rather it’s more like “We can do things with your stuff to make Instagram work”.

Published by Paul Jacobson

Enthusiast, writer, Happiness Engineer at @automattic. I take photos too. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad.

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