Instagram Did a Stupid

The internets have been lit up with the news of Instagram’s new policy for ownership of your photos:

Instagram said today that it has the perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification, a dramatic policy shift that quickly sparked a public outcry.

The new intellectual property policy, which takes effect on January 16, comes three months after Facebook completed its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing site. Unless Instagram users delete their accounts before the January deadline, they cannot opt out.

Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency. One irked Twitter user quipped that “Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won’t have to pay you anything to use your images.”

“It’s asking people to agree to unspecified future commercial use of their photos,” says Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That makes it challenging for someone to give informed consent to that deal.”

That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on — without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo. The language would include not only photos of picturesque sunsets on Waikiki, but also images of young children frolicking on the beach, a result that parents might not expect, and which could trigger state privacy laws.

I couldn’t really believe this the first time I read it.  I almost felt like this was an internet hoax by someone creatively trolling the masses.  But after reading several more articles on it (here, here), plus the link above to attorney Kurt Opshal’s interpretation and analysis in the CNET article above, it is as bad as it sounds.

I hate this as a user, but it is even more offensive, as a business owner.  Companies that are building internet platforms heavily rely on the trust of users to participate and use their service.  In Instagram’s case, I’ve heard it argued from others that because their app/service is free, users have little right to complain when they take their content and do what they want with it.  This is stupid.  Rights and laws don’t necessarily mean it is good business.  A trusted relationship with your customers is the most valuable asset you have and to thumb your nose and be antagonistic about that relationship defies common sense.  Everyday you have to earn your customer’s trust and in one whiff, it can be severed beyond repair.

Firstly, as a note to existing and future PathWrangler users, we actively protect your intellectual property.  We don’t just refuse to pursue relationships and partnerships with outside companies profiting off of your data without your permission; we built a way that YOU are in control of the distribution of YOUR content:   photos, trip information, itineraries, gear lists, trip reports, stories and conversations.   Any tools that have been developed or will be developed will only help further the control you have.  It is rather simple for us to do this as is a part of our core values and mission.

Lastly, as an editorial, you can see the weakness and laziness of Instagram as a business model.  It is simple: build something people want and they’ll pay you for it.  Instagram built a simple/free app that gained a shit-ton of users and not a dollar in revenue.  The founders got rich off their exit, but they never built a real business model.  This attempt to monetize at the expense of the only asset they had – their users’ trust – is just a massive unforced error.  This isn’t a just a gaffe like Chevy trying to sell the Nova in Mexico and then realizing later that it meant “No Go” in Spanish.  Then again, what do I know, I haven’t made a billion dollars off of PathWrangler, so maybe my thinking is just dated and tired.  But my experience with our clients says that they kind of like this old fashioned thinking.

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