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Instagram and Their New Terms and Conditions...(Updated!)

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Some @zhantra action @lisichka1805 @clubspacemiami #igersmiami #miami #305 #dancer #dj
Filtered with Normal through Instagram

Club Space
Taken at Club Space

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Scroll to the bottom, Instagram appears to be backtracking, or clarifying.

Over the past few days, there’s been a bit of a furor over the changed Terms & Conditions over at Instagram. As an avid user of the service, hell, it’s pretty much the only major social media service I don’t have a huge dislike for, I was, of course, a little concerned…

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

This little damning bit of text sent the Instagram community into a tailspin. People cried foul, many cried “copryright!”, and more than a few threatened to walk away…but from where I sit today, Instagram is still there, and material is still flowing to it, unabated.

Instagram is a free service. Recently acquired by Facebook, Instagram allows you, the user, to post photos onto their service without charge, and you can even advertise your services and goods through those photos, for free, and Instagram doesn’t see a dime of any income you might earn from that advertising. Now, on Instagram you cannot tap on hyperlinks to go to an external website, so in other words, for any external action to be completed, the text must be copied and pasted to your browser. It’s not an ideal system. However, considering it’s free and easy, it’s not to be entirely disregarded. Just don’t expect large-scale results from it.

And now, because it is free, Instagram does reserve the right to do whatever they want with the content you post to it, including reselling it. Instagram was purchased by Facebook for a shade under 1 billion US Dollars. That’s right, a billion with a b. So, Facebook has to make their money back somehow. One way is by placing ads within the Instagram stream. That’s coming soon. Don’t be surprised if targeted ads, probably similar to Pandora, make their way into your Instagram feed sometime over the next few months. Also, Instagram will probably be taking photos from their servers, photos that you uploaded, and attempting to resell them on the open market. Fair is fair. Something for something.

And yes, a lot of people are mad about this.

I sure was.

But then I realized a few key things:

Images on Instagram are compressed by the app locally on your phone and uploaded to IG’s servers at 612 x 612 pixels, and a fair amount of compression is applied.

They can try to use this if they want. #igersmiami #miami #305 
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Talk Nightlife
Taken at Talk Nightlife

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This image is one I posted to Instagram just now. It’s 612 x 612 at 72 PPI. At print resolution that’s maybe 2 inches by 2 inches. Less since I’ve letterboxed it. Also the image has been clipped and compressed and watermarked. I couldn’t see using this for any meaningful print use. This specific copy belongs to Instagram, possibly. And this is as good as it’s gonna get off of Instagram.

This image is the “web original”. It’s 960 x 640 at 72 PPI. 3 inches by 2 inches or thereabouts at print resolution. It is compressed as little as possible. However it is watermarked, and it is hosted here, so out and out this “high-quality” version belongs to me. If someone wants to use it or a higher-resolution copy of it, then they need to talk to me (dan at dan dash vidal dot com - if you are of a mind) in order to use it.

Instagram users assume people are interested in their images in order to use them for financial gain.

Fact is, no. To think so is thinking that your content is somehow going to stand out from the billions of images Instagram now plays host to. Even if you are like me, and import your images from a high-quality source, no one with any money to spend on photography or photo licensing is going to care. They know that whatever terms Instagram sets for licensing images will not be in their favor, and also that the quality from Instagram is barely suitable for web use, much less print or any other high-resolution media. 612 x 612 isn’t much. Look at it on your monitor. Even if you are on a laptop, the square probably takes up about 1/4th of your screen. Not very meaningful from a compositional perspective. Plus, most IG images are straight from a phone camera and are noisy, overly-contrasted, mushy, and compressed like crazy. Certainly not suitable for reuse or reproduction. Instagram themselves may get some traction out of it, but they are going to find few buyers in the open market for cell phone photos of food.

Sam Biddle over at Gizmodo put it best today:

This means that Instagram can sell the pictures you take of pineapple upside down cake, latte swirls, and your dumb dog, if some company wants to pay for these photos. They can then do whatever the hell they want with them, including putting the photos in advertisements for shoes or cars or whatever.

And yes, they can and they will try. So be it. And if Instagram can find traction in selling 612 x 612 images, well, good for them. And if it’s images I uploaded, well, then I guess there’s a market for my images that I post on Instagram. If that’s the case I’ll be more cautious as to what I post to Instagram, and see about selling 612 x 612 images myself.

A lot of the complainers are making the erroneous assumption that people care what they post. Fact is, most people don’t, otherwise they would follow you if they did. Outside of celebrities, most of the world doesn’t care about your pineapple upside down cake, latte swirls, and your dumb dog (thanks Sam, that’s golden!) or any other aspect of your life. I sure as hell don’t. And if I want photos of pineapple upside down cake, latte swirls, and your dumb dog, I’ll take the photos myself of pineapple upside down cake, latte swirls, and your dumb dog.

Keep on Instagramming, I know I will. It’s fun, and it’s free, and they can only learn about you what you choose to share. Now yes, the theory behind it isn’t very good, but in practice there is little actual harm being done. Your Instagram photos are ephemeral snippets of time, not the next iteration of the works of Cartier-Bresson. And if Henri was alive today, he’d have an iPhone (of course) and he’d be Instagramming away with the rest of us. If you don’t take Instagram seriously, they won’t take you seriously.

But, if you insist, here’s a few ways to make your images “unusable”.

  • Collage Apps
  • Collage apps allow you to place multiple images into one Instagram image. My favorite is Instacollage Pro. You can post multiple images per Instagram using this, or have one image “broken up” with obnoxious lines going through it. The image up at the top of this article was chopped up in Instacollage Pro.
  • Use an app like Filterstorm to render the image smaller than the Instagram Square.
  • The app Filterstorm is bascially a mini-Photoshop for iOS. You can do basic adjustments and gradings to JPEG images, and there’s a handy function called “Make Square” which places a white border around a non-square image, to make it into a square, conveniently in the proportions Instagram needs. This allows a user to display their entire image as intended, and also it makes the image even smaller than 612 x 612, rendering it nigh-unusable for anything but Instagram.
  • Watermark in Photoshop or Lightroom Right Through The Center
  • My friend Seth with his company World Red Eye does this with all of his images anyways. It destroys their worth to anyone looking to steal them, regardless of the medium. This is probably the best way of going about it.

So yeah, I think I’ll keep on Instagramming. I know how to mess up my images just enough to render them useless to anyone looking to use them from Instagram, and also anything I shoot directly with my phone has no significant monetary value.

Follow me at instagram.com/pod_gram - haha!

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of me, the anti-Facebook guy, using Instagram, a Facebook division. There’s alternatives out there I’m exploring, don’t worry.

Update 2012-12-18 21:03

Instagram appears to be backtracking, according to Kevin’s latest blog post.

Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.

I always want you to feel comfortable sharing your photos on Instagram and we will always work hard to foster and respect our community and go out of our way to support its rights.

He also goes on to explain that yes, they are a business, and they need to make money. So, for now, it appears that content uploaded to Instagram is safe. I’m not saying Instagram won’t change their minds again, or be forced to by Facebook, but at least for now it appears that the more questionable changes to the T&C have been modified and/or clarified. So there’s that, and Kevin is a good person for at least speaking out, even if it took the slight threat of a user revolt to do so.

Oh, and happy holidays to my readership. The blog has been a fun adventure over the past few months!