If you’re of a certain age, you’re probably familiar with the many practices that were necessary to circumvent ownership and copyright in the halcyon days of the 1990s (and earlier). Given that many of us were too young to think about the relative morality of what we were doing, or to even be aware of copyright, taping songs off of the radio onto a cassette, or using the two-VCR method of making copies of the tapes you rented from the local video store was something you did without compunction. The point isn’t about the advance of technology or the relative behavior of kids decades ago, but rather that means of working around copyright protection have always existed, and persist to this day.
Embedding Instagram posts isn’t a new sore spot for copyright-minded users, but it’s one that gets poked at enough that subsequent fights remain as contentious as the first. Most of the initial conflagrations were between users, be it individuals taking action against one another or users pressing a case against a media company that made their photo the centerpiece of a blog or listicle. Now both ire and litigation are being directed at the ultimate source of the issue: Instagram.
The Hollywood Reporter has a story on how two Instagram users have filed a suit against Instagram for the platform’s ongoing practice of permitting third parties to embed Instagram posts without permission or license from the original creator. The practice touches on one of many third rails in the current social media landscape — namely, that users, by signing up for Instagram, are signing away certain rights to ownership, as well as privacy (although the latter is a can of worms for another time.)
And while users are in fact signing away curtains rights to a sub-license by posting on Instagram, the issue is complicated by the fact that it’s apparently Facebook/Instagram policy that third parties need to seek permission or license from those users to embed their posts. Which, it’s fair to guess, has not been happening since the advent of the embed API.
I didn’t know of this policy, and likely neither did any of the countless others who post, or those who have embedded the posts of others on their sites. That’s the crux of the suit: that Instagram was allowing all of us to operate under the notion that embeds were free, implying that we didn’t like their policy we could take our #isitlunch pics elsewhere, all while making considerable money for Facebook. It places the blame squarely at the feet of the parent company rather than those who simply thought they were playing by rules that, while probably unfair, were the rules in place. It’s probably not a comfortable place for Instagram to be.