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Do Instagram's controversial new terms of use violate user's copyright protections?

The 100 million people who use Instagram are struggling to understand the photo-sharing service's new terms of use and many of them are deciding that they are uncomfortable with it.

We thought this story was interesting because it has a strong intellectual property aspect, not to mention implications for celebrities and creative professionals. Therefore, it may be of special relevance here in Los Angeles.

The new terms of use, which go into effect Jan. 16, stipulate that if a third party wants to use creative work generated by an Instagram user, it can do so by paying Instagram and Instagram does not have to ask or compensate the user.

In effect, Instagram is asking users to give up their copyright protections, which affix automatically when a user takes a photo. (Remember that certain copyright protections attach automatically as soon as an "author" commits an expression of an idea into a fixed medium).

Some celebrities have also questioned if this service will be used to imply endorsements. If a passerby notices Taylor Swift coming out of a coffee shop and takes a snapshot, for example, could that coffee shop buy the image and publicize it, thus implying that Swift endorses it?

Many professional photographers are also against the policy because they believe that creative professionals deserve to have their permission asked and be compensated for use of their work.

For now, Instagram has stayed quiet regarding the furor over its new terms of use. However, we see this as the start of a potentially stormy debate over copyright, privacy and technology, so we are definitely going to keep an eye on it. Watch this blog for future updates.

Source: CNN, "Instagram users revolt over privacy changes," Doug Gross, Dec. 18, 2012

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