Once Instagram courted professional photographers. On Dec. 17, it kicked them in the teeth—or so the reaction to the photo-sharing site’s new terms of service suggests. On Instagram, professional photographers were not pleased.
Danny Ghitis: Looks like @instagram is jumping on the copyright infringement boat. Being on the internet doesn’t mean pictures are free, assholes.
Noah Rabinowitz: I’m out.
Jody Rogac: Dear Instagram, you know I love you but this may just be a dealbreaker.
And some reactions on Twitter:
@Amy_Stein: New Instagram TOS take effect Jan 16. Be afraid if you like to get paid for your work.
@MarcDSchiller: Bye, bye @instagram. It was fun while it lasted.
@ChrisSandersNY: What!!!!! Instagram Can Now Sell Users’ Photos Without Paying Or Notifying Them
By the end of the day on Dec. 18, the company had gone into damage-control mode. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post that the company had “heard loud and clear that many users are confused and upset about what the changes mean.” Many professional photographers interpreted the new Instagram rules as granting the site the right to use and sell photos without notifying or compensating the photographer—something the company does not intend to do, Systrom wrote. “We’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos,” he wrote. “Please stay tuned.”
It’s not clear whether the pros can be wooed back. Perhaps more than any of Instagram’s users, professional photographers are feeling particularly spurned. In its early days, when Instagram was turning itself from a Foursquare also-ran into a photo-sharing site, it relied on partnerships with professional photographers to promote its service.
Great photographers were featured, giving Instagram cachet and credibility. The New Yorker set up an Instagram feed, then turned it over to a different photographer each week to showcase their work and daily life. National Geographic shared the names and accounts of its photographers for all to follow.
It also provided a community for photographers to see each other’s work and comment directly—a rare thing in the photo world. Photo editors and photo buyers got a view into photographers’ processes and lives. We saw photographers Jake Stangel travel the world and Kendrick Brinson and David Walter Banks fall in love.Photograph by Kendrick Brinson For photographers, it is easier to communicate with images than it is with text, and it is more interesting and rewarding to do so with a community of other photographers and photo lovers than everyone you went to high school with. Lots of people loved Instagram, but as a service, it really did feel tailored for the pros.
The world of professional photo rights is complex, but here is a quick overview: Photo buyers from ad agencies, publishers, newspapers, and magazines pay for use and rights. The amount depends on visibility, circulation, size of use, and a variety of other qualifiers. A magazine like Rolling Stone will pay less to use an image than, for example, Bank of America probably would. In most cases, the photographer retains the permanent rights to images unless a fairly high fee is paid or the photographer is working on contract.
Some have suggested that Facebook is trying to turn Instagram into a stock photography site, à la iStock, or other services that sell images to users. More likely, it’s looking for cover, in case it decides to use images from the site in its own advertising and promotions, or in conjunction with other companies—an issue Systrom alluded to in his post. This same issue comes up every time Facebook changes its user privacy settings. People threaten to leave and don’t, and Facebook doesn’t sell our vacation photos. (At least, it hasn’t yet.)
Here’s the difference: There isn’t a good alternative to Facebook right now. There is a good alternative to Instagram. It’s called Flickr. Even before the Instagram announcement, Yahoo’s Flickr service was starting to show signs of life for the first time in years, with an elegant new app and a renewed commitment to its users. It’s worth remembering where Flickr went wrong in the first place: It thought it was a database of photos, not a community of photographers. That was a mistake—its users knew it, and defected en masse.
Now, anecdotally, they would appear to be coming back. Flickr has a fairly elegant solution for this: It allows photographers to upload their photos under the Creative Commons license or, on the other end of the spectrum, not to be reproduced in any way (these images can’t even be dragged and dropped). That seems fair to me. This morning, I decided to give Flickr another try. It took me only a dozen attempts to remember my password.