In December there was much uproar about Instagram’s updates to their TOS. Most notably how many people were interpreting Instagram’s rights in using your photos and what they were entitled to do with your photos. There were majors concerns about Instagram owning your pictures and their right to sell or profit off your picture, largely without your knowledge.
In other words, your work and your moments were up for sale to companies or simply the highest bidder.
What did that mean for the average Instagram user?
Simply put, I could take a picture of one of my favorite products, a book I just bought, or even my kids playing with a popular toy and a company or someone with a vested, monetary interest in my pictures could purchase that picture from Instagram and use the picture in marketing or advertising without my knowledge, consent or compensation. This was something that many users had an issue with; myself included as I am all about attribution and not thieving content or pictures that don’t belong to you.
Instagram took the backlash from the proposed changes to their terms under consideration and made revisions that would hopefully clear up confusion the legal jargon caused. However, instagram’s TOS still reads that they have a non-exclusive, royalty free sub-license and worldwide license to use your content.
While Instagram maintains that you own your pictures and they have no intent to sell your photos; the possibility is there through the licensing and they don’t have to disclose it if they do. Though Instagram has no plans to sell your pictures, they are after all a business and advertising is the number one way to turn a profit for a social network like instagram.
A preview of what’s to come?
Evidence of that possibility came to me last night through a pitch to promote a product using instagrams from Oprah’s public instagram profile.
Do I know if the advertising company purchased Oprah’s pictures to use to promote the product? No.
Do I know if Oprah gives a kickback to any brands that she claims as her “favorite things”? I don’t think so (though I do remember Oprah talking about her favorite things as being authentic finds) but it is the first promotional pitch of this kind that I’ve seen and I’m pretty sure that it’s just the beginning.
What concerns me isn’t so much that instagram will sell your pictures to use in advertising (I’m very Pollyanna on this because I adore instagram and would love to take the company at their word), but that brands will profit off your pictures without instagram’s knowledge or yours in an effort to promote a new product. In this case (and because I’m Pollyanna still), I’m going to fathom a guess that this PR company had their Google Alerts set up properly and saw that Oprah tweeted her instagram professing her love for this product and the company saw an opportunity to jump at chance for FREE ADVERTISING (and who better to spread the word for free but unsuspecting bloggers).
The brand gets out of paying you (the promoter), the owner of the work (in this case Oprah), and the platform that was used to create the work (instagram). And from the pitch I received yesterday, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.
Are your instagrams next?
I often use pictures in my reviews – it’s how I demonstrate the product and how my family is using it and I agree that instagram is a very creative social sharing tool but that doesn’t mean I want my pictures to be used for something I didn’t authorize or have a hand in creating myself. My own brand is important to me and how they use my work may not be how I want myself, family, or brand perceived.
It concerns me and raises red flags when I see a pitch to “share Oprah’s instagrams” because if they’re doing it to Oprah, how do I know I won’t be the next person to wind up in a PR pitch of a product? Sure, I’m no Oprah but I think that regardless of who you are or your influence you have the right to be a part of any kind of promotion that uses your work, especially if the brand using it stands to profit from it considerably.
I know and understand that these are the risks associated with using these kinds of social networks and social tools but I’d still love to know what you think about this new marketing tactic.
Does it border on sketchy and low class or is this going to be the next trend in advertising a product or service?
And more importantly, how should brands and social networks like instagram approach using your work in advertising?
(By the way, Oprah if you’re reading this – I puffy heart love you and used to skip school to catch your show before my after school job, but please don’t tell my dad that.)