Protecting Your Intellectual Property on Instagram

September 27, 2017

Earlier this month my wife and I traveled to Barcelona, Spain and I posted some of the highlights from our trip on Instagram. On the last day of our trip, we traveled just outside the city to Montserrat, which features a monastery and some incredible views.

After I returned to the US, I received a notification that I’d been tagged in a photo from an account I didn’t recognize. I opened the notification, and here’s what I found:

Montserrat in Catalonia

Another account had copied my photo, and in the description included a copyright symbol next to my username. I quickly reviewed the other posts from the account, and every other image was accompanied by a similar description.

This practice is called “content curation”, and while relatively common on Instagram and other social media sites, it doesn’t eliminate the risks of running afoul of the individual site’s terms of service, or subjecting the curator to liability for intellectual property infringement. Consequences for these types of violations include removal of the content, getting your account temporarily or permanently suspended, to an intellectual property infringement lawsuit with the potential for significant financial penalties.

So what’s the problem? The other account gave attribution, that makes it ok right?

By posting my photo without my permission, the account violated the Instagram Community Guidelines. The Community Guidelines state that users may:

Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.

As always, you own the content you post on Instagram. Remember to post authentic content, and don’t post anything you’ve copied or collected from the Internet that you don’t have the right to post. Learn more about intellectual property rights.

This requirement is rooted in a basic principle of copyright law – the author of a photo or video has certain exclusive rights to their work, including the right to publish the content. Even though the account tagged my username in the description of the photo, since they did not get my permission to post the photo, the account violated the Community Guidelines and my intellectual property rights.

Instagram has an online form that can be completed either through a web browser or through Instagram’s mobile apps to report content that infringes on your copyright or trademark rights.

I reported the offending content through Instagram and I received email confirmation that the content was removed within a few hours of completing the form. If this happens to you, here are a few recommendations and observations from my experience with the process:

  • Use the web browser version instead of the mobile app. Since you need to copy and paste the URL of the offending photo or video and upload the original photo, I found it easier to use a computer.
  • Your name and email address may be provided to the person who posted the content. As a part of the reporting process, you need to provide your name and email address. In the email confirmation from Instagram, it states: “Please note that we regularly provide the rights owner’s name, your email address and the nature of your report to the person who posted the content you are reporting.” Had I known that they would provide this information, I probably would’ve used my professional email address rather than my personal account.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable reporting the content or have legal questions, consider hiring an attorney. I was able to complete the form relatively easily based on my experience with intellectual property infringement claims, but there is a lot of legalese in the process. If you have questions about potential infringement of your work, you should contact an experienced attorney to help you through the process.

Questions about how to protect your creative works online? Feel free to contact us.

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University Commonwealth School of Law and works regularly with business owners and entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in some of the other places Matt visited on his trip, check out his Instagram.