Instagram Faces Copyright Suit from Users Over Embed Feature

Instagram is one of the fastest-growing websites in the world right now. The year 2020 saw a huge boost in the number of its users due to the pandemic 😷. Now, more than one billion people use Instagram every month. Surprisingly, even though Instagram is most users access it through a mobile app, it still remains one of the top 10 most popular websites.

It is common for such a mammoth platform to come by lawsuits every now and then. On Wednesday, two users sued Instagram, alleging that its embed feature breaks copyright laws and lines Facebook’s pockets 💰. 

What’s Wrong With Instagram’s Embed Feature?

According to the official Instagram website, the embed feature is an “easy way to add Instagram photos and videos to the stories you want to tell.”  However, what the website does not state is that this makes it way too easy to share photos and videos from any public account on Instagram. As of now, users don’t 🤷 have the privilege to deny or stop the embedding of their photos without making their accounts private. 

Instagram is allegedly working on a feature to give its users control over who can or cannot embed their content. For now, the only assurance given to a user is that people who see the content outside of Instagram will be able to see that it belongs to that particular user.  

Critics say this feature has many disadvantages 👎. For example, it affects photographers 📸 who don’t want to see their content on external websites without pay. 

Moreover, Facebook made a shocking revelation when a spokesperson purportedly told Ars Technica that it does not provide a sub-license to make use of every embedded photo. The spokesperson apparently outright said, “While our terms allow us to grant a sub-license, we do not grant one for our embeds API.” 

Ars Technica’s report says that the spokesperson 🎤 said:

“Our platform policies require third parties to have the necessary rights from applicable rights holders. This includes ensuring they have a license to share this content if a license is required by law.”

Let’s Talk About the Lawsuit

There have been cases in the past surrounding the embed feature, but they’ve gone after news outlets rather than Insta itself. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair sued Mashable in 2018 for embedding a photo she took in Guatemala that she shared on Instagram.

Another lawsuit involving photographer Elliot McGucken and Newsweek came up last year and is currently ongoing. Newsweek may win using the “server test,” a legal norm that puts the responsibility on the corporation that owns the publishing server.

Unlike these previous cases, this time Instagram itself is facing a lawsuit. On Wednesday, two users sued Instagram. They claim beginning on July 1, 2013, contributed content to the app that was then embedded elsewhere without permission. They’re suing for copyright infringement via enticement, as well as contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.

In the complaint, attorney Solomon Cera ostensibly wrote 🖋️, “Instagram misled the public to believe that anyone was free to get on Instagram and embed copyrighted works from any Instagram account, like eating for free at a buffet table of photos by virtue of simply using the Instagram embedding tool.”

Cera holds that until last summer, Instagram tricked third parties into believing that a license 📜 was not necessary. Instagram’s terms of use allow it to sub-license media uploaded on the app. However, it doesn’t grant such a license to third parties.

The plaintiffs are also argue that users can’t track third-party embeds, but Instagram can. As a result, users can’t easily pursue infringers. Instagram has yet to respond to a comment request.

What Happens Next?

Clearly, the obvious and best solution is to give users the power 💪 to select who can embed their content. However, if things go south, we’re possibly looking at a massive change in the virtual world 📱. 

Insta is currently the world’s most popular photo and video sharing app. If things don’t pan out well, this statistic could change overnight.  Every public Instagram snap, Twitter post, and YouTube video would become unshareable. Consequently, Instagram’s allure ✨ might deteriorate.

That would be excellent in circumstances where institutions behave in bad faith—asking permission, getting a rejection, and then sharing an image anyway by exploiting the embedding “loophole.” But it would not be so wonderful for the internet as a whole 😞.