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Julio Romo

Julio Romo

Dubai based Digital, PR, Communications and Innovation Consultant.

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Instagram changes terms of service and creates a pr disaster

December 20 2012 03.06 | 00 Comments

Instagram, here today, gone tomorrow?

Instagram, here today, gone tomorrow?

Everybody loves a start-up. They are new, agile and the so-called ‘gurus’ like to describe them disruptive. The problem though is that many often lack basic business experience – common sense leads many to be here today and gone tomorrow.

Enter Instagram, which was founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in October 2010. Instagram was one of the first photo sharing and social networking services that enabled users to ‘take a picture, apply a digital filter to it, and share it on a variety of social networking services, including its own.’

Instagram was a runaway success. Within it’s first year the application had over 5 million users, a figure that grew to 30 million by April 2012 when Facebook approach the company and bought it for a cool $1 billion. Today, Instagram has 100 million registered users.

Facebook though isn’t going to buy such a company without thinking of how to monitise it.

Which is why on 5th December this year Kevin Systrom announced at Le Web that Instagram was going to block Twitter from displaying photos as Twitter Cards. This announcement didn’t go down that well with users who shared their photo’s on Twitter.

The removing of Instragram from Twitter cards was nothing in comparison to the announcement on 18th December that the company was changing its terms and conditions. Under the new policy, the company would have the rights to sell users’ photos to advertisers without “compensation or notification.”

This announcement was described by users as a ‘suicide note‘, especially after Instagram announced that the only way to opt-out was by deleting a users account before 16 January 2013.

Instagramers took to Twitter to denounce the new terms and conditions. High profile photographers deleted their accounts and the media, rightly so, went negative.

Kevin Systrom took to the company blog to try and manage the crisis. In a post he appeared to claim that users had misinterpreted its revised terms of service. He blamed the furore on “confusing” choice of language.

Blaming the language is an odd strategy, as legal documents are supposed to be written in plain English. And in any case, any change in terms of use should have gone through both compliance and PR.

What is stranger is that given that this was not the first time that a photo sharing site had both been caught trying to claim copyright over users content, it was odd for Systrom to blame ‘confusing language.’

Let’s remember that in May 2011 Twitpic, which went mainstream after a user captured a US Airways plane crash landing on the Hudson River, announced a change in its terms and conditions. The changes sought to secure copyright over all images on the network. A backlash ensued with users hastingtaging #twitpic #delete.

Twitpic founder Noah Everett apologised on the site’s blog for the “lack of clarity” in the language used. Photo sharing network Plixi was also caught in a similar situation when entered into a deal with World Entertainment News.

Fact is that many photo-sharing sites have tried to monitise their business by trying to grab exclusive copyrights from users.

Networks such as the Yahoo-owned Flickr tried something different though. In May 2009 Flickr entered into a deal with Getty Images. As part of the deal Getty can approach users in order to secure a deal on an image that they have taken. Users can then take anything between 20 and 30 per cent of sales through the renowned global picture agency.

And Getty is not the only site that offers to pay users. The Agence France Press backed Citizenside acts as an agent for pictures that are sold, often passing 50 per cent to the user.

So the question to Instagram and Facebook is, why try and grab everything and then blame the lawyers, when you could have set the scene for crowdsourcing opportunity for amateur photographers?

Photo sharing sites have tried to grab copyright from users in the past and failed. Perhaps, sharing money earned would have enhanced Instagram’s reputation.

Perhaps speaking to your PR, Instagram could have saved themselves a lot of grief.

As it stands, and according to Andrew Beaujon at Poynter, ‘unhappy Instragram users are still suspending their accounts.’

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