Do you own your work or do I?

“This is totally going to rake in all the likes!” *uploads photo to Instagram… Congratulations, you’ve just sold your soul to the top dogs who own the platforms Instagram, Facebook and Flickr. Instagram states that ‘copyright is the legal right that protects original works of authorship’ but in early 2013 in the UK, the UK government’s new law puts this property right into question. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act permits the commercial exploitation of images (when information about the owner is missing -“orphan works”) by categorising the works into “extended collective licensing schemes”. The Act states that a user of a work can act as if they are the owner of the work (which should be the original producer) if they’re given permission to do so by the Secretary of State. It also fails to prohibit sub-licensing so this means that somebody else can wholesale your work.

When a photo is taken, yes it is your original piece of work but once you add an Instagram filter and upload it, the lines of ownership are suddenly blurred as the application now plays a role in the creation. In the terms and conditions it explicitly says “Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service.” But it then proceeds in saying “Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy.” So in laymen’s terms it means that while you retain the copyright, Instagram can re-use/modify/ exploit your photo as they see fit without paying you a cent.

This is highlighted in the case of Tuana Aziz; a Swedish photographer who in 2011 found a photo he shot and posted onto Instagram had been screen-printed onto a t-shirt and was being sold in a Mango clothing store. The shirt retailed at £8.99 each though the company speedily removed all shirts after Aziz complained.

Not many people are fully aware of the extent to which Instagram owns their images yet it is a highly controversial breach of trust. Lesson of the day: always be conscious of what signing up to something REALLY means and its effect on your originality.



Instagram Help Centre, Last edited March 2014, Accessed 21st March 2014


Instagram Terms and Conditions, Published January 2013, Accessed 21st March 2014


Rogers, K, Instagram users begin fightback against stolen photos, Published February 6 2013, Accessed 21st March 2014


Orlowski, A, UK.Gov passes Instagram Act: All your pics belong to everyone now, Published   Accessed 21st March 2014


One thought on “Do you own your work or do I?

  1. It’s actually so scary that no one reads the terms and conditions on anything because I had no idea that they can just use any of our photos! Really well written though, good work 🙂

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