Instagram Users, Here’s What People Can And Cannot Do With Your Uploaded Photos

Image via namtipStudio /

Last week, lifestyle website PopSugar was called out for allegedly “stealing” and monetizing millions of Instagram photos from influencers, who had uploaded their images on affiliate platform RewardStyle. The site’s founder, Brian Sugar, later explained that the downloaded images were only used for a Hack Day experiment.

The incident is reminiscent of the controversial modus operandi of photographer Richard Prince, who profited off Instagram users’ work by displaying screenshots of their photos in an exhibit. Almost all of the artworks were reportedly sold at US$90,000 each.

When it comes to copyright infringement issues on social media, it’s difficult to tell where the line is drawn. Keen to find out more, Refinery29 seeked some direction from Ryan M. Garcia, a professor at the School of at University of Texas at Austin and co-author of Social Media Law in a Nutshell.

View some dos and don’ts about image use on social media and learn more here.

Just because your profile is marked ‘Public’, it doesn’t place your photos in the public domain.

“When other people see my content labeled as ‘Public’… [they may think,] ‘Oh, it’s marked ‘Public’ so anyone can do anything with it. But that’s not what it means,” Garcia explained.

What the ‘Public’ label really represents is the permission you have granted people to view your work. It’s not a “waiver” of other image rights.

In general, your Instagram photos can only be shared without permission if the platform’s design permits people to.

To share an artist’s work, a user would first need to receive permission from them, said Garcia. Without authorization, the use of an image would classify under infringement. There are a few exceptions to this rule; for example, a photo from the public domain can be re-shared without prior communication with the owner.

Currently, Instagram’s functionality limits the ways people are allowed to repost images. “[F]or example, some pictures can be shared to Facebook or shared with individuals via DM or by Messenger. If Instagram were to create a function similar to Twitter’s retweet, then that would be allowed as well,” Garcia said.

Getting around Instagram’s UX to share images without permission, such as by taking screenshots or using third-party extractors, could qualify as illegal use.

All in all, you own the rights to your images.

It’s important to note that what you upload on Instagram still belongs to you. “I’ve granted a very broad license to Instagram to use that photo on their platform, and another license to my fellow users to see the photo,” explained Garcia. “But I still get to control how it’s used outside the platform.”

Read more about image rights on Instagram over at Refinery29.

[via Refinery29, cover image via namtipStudio /]

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