Instagram has made a big move to help protect the work of photographers.
Early this year, a photographer took Mashable to court after the publication embedded one of her Instagram photos without consent. Her attempt to sue the company was unsuccessful, sparking wide debate across the photography community. Many felt Instagram needed to do more to protect the work of photographers, believing it was too easy for third parties to use their images. Since the court ruling, it seems Instagram has listened to the needs of its users.
In a recent statement, the social media company said third parties must now acquire direct permission to embed photos on their websites. Of course, this move is surely going to please creatives. But is the news as positive as it seems?
“We’re a business that prides ourselves on championing some of the best photography around today. We’ve done it for 10 years, and it can greatly benefit a photographer’s career.”
The Good About Instagram’s Move
Before Instagram’s shift, from a photographer’s perspective, it was very much part of the problem in regard to big publications having too much power over photographers. Publications could go on to a photographer’s feed, select an image they liked, and embed it into their articles — escaping having to ask the photographer for permission or compensating them. This outraged some (who, to be fair, really should have read the T&C’s of Instagram): they felt it was removing the control they had over their work.
So, as Instagram gives more power to the photographer, we should all pop champagne and tip our glass to a small yet worthwhile victory. The photographer in me is ready to drink some bubbly: the journalist isn’t.
More Difficult to Feature Work
I’m fortunate that I get to write for one of the leading websites in the photographic niche. We’re a business that prides ourselves on championing some of today’s best photography. We’ve done it for 10 years, and it can greatly benefit a photographer’s career.
Of course, we’re ethical and act within the law. We would never publish a photo or feature a photographer’s body of work without permission. But, we also work at an extremely fast pace. Sometimes we don’t always have the time to wait for a photographer to get back to us and grant permission to include them in a round-up of other quality photographers. This is where Instagram’s previous stance suited us. We were able to assume permission as the photographer had agreed to the terms and conditions, and by posting a photo, agreed that it was free to embed by third parties.
“…this isn’t a “you’re making my job harder” post, but rather, it’s going to be harder for me to ensure I can get your work out there.”
We will play by the rules: not only do we have to, we want to. So, if I want to round up 20 of the best female photographers, for example, I will ask all 20 of them for direct permission. This may not sound like a big deal to some, but here’s the reality. I have worked in this industry for several years, and I can tell you that photographers across all genders, ethnicities, age groups, and genres are not equal when it comes to communication. Some are excellent communicators and others are not.
Respectfully, I have deadlines like everyone else. I cannot wait for people to respond at a pace they deem appropriate. Sadly, this only results in a culture of “first to respond will get featured.” I don’t like that, and I know many photographers won’t either.
What’s the Solution?
Fluidity is key in our world. If a photographer is happy to have their work featured, then it’s a good idea to make it clear in the caption what permission they grant to third parties. This approach isn’t new. Creatives on Behance can select what permissions they grant, making it easier for publications to feature their work. It would be nice if Instagram followed the same route, but I doubt it will – not anytime soon, at least.
Some may find my opinion cynical, maybe even selfish. This isn’t a “you’re making my job harder” post, but rather, “it’s going to be harder for me to ensure I can get your work out there.”
Not everything’s about payment. Sure, I empathize with the photographer who isn’t getting financial compensation from the world’s biggest publications. But the reality is, marketing yourself goes beyond that, and sometimes you have to see it as an investment rather than a quick payday.
So, while I’m happy photographers are getting more protection like they asked for, I worry what impact it will have on their marketing approach and ability to be seen by the world. We’ll have to wait and see.