South Park tried to warn us a while ago that by clicking “Agree” to Terms & Conditions without reading them beforehand could lead to horrible disasters – good thing we listened!

Instagram, the popular mobile photo-sharing app recently bought by Facebook (for $1billion), announced on Monday, 17 December, that they will be changing their T&Cs starting January 16 2013. Good thing someone found the time to read them, because it seems that Instagram is as evil a business as Goldman & Sachs is.

As if copyright law wasn’t enough of an issue ever since Napster started the copyright wars in 2000, Instagram took it one step further by saying that it could sell its’ users photos to be used in ads and promotions, without the express permission of the owner and without any compensation:

“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

And

“We may share your information as well as information from tools like cookies, log files, and device identifiers and location data with organizations that help us provide the service to you… (and) third-party advertising partners.”

As anyone apart from the people working at Instagram and Facebook would have realized beforehand, this is simply a bad idea: there was no way that this wouldn’t outrage people (and I have to add, with hacker organization Anonymous running around the Internet like a modern day Robin Hood, if I were Instagram, I would be even more scared). So after rummaging for a day and a half on how to get out of this, they found the perfect excuse: the language in the new T&C was confusing, because, as we all know, “legal documents are easy to misinterpret” (Instagram Blog).

Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder, went on to say on their blog that “Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed” and “we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.” To hear him say it, it’s like we are all idiots – not even Wired or National Geographic seemed to have the necessary resources to understand Instagram’s complicated legal language.

Instagram did back down quickly, however, and promised to change certain parts of their T&Cs and do it before the New Year. So we will have to wait and see what their T&Cs will look like, and how the Instagram consumer experience will change next year.

But could it be that the damage has already been done? That their reputation has been irrevocably damaged?

It would seem so – especially when it comes to professional photographers and even celebrities. Regular folk might not expect to have their pictures of the cake they baked last night used in ads or even mind as much, but photographers, for example, make their living from pictures.

The even sadder thing is, Instagram used to court photographers in its beginnings and did everything possible to be associated with them as it gave them credibility. Now, however, with this move they made, it’s like Instagram has completely forgotten about its first relationship – that with professional photographers. Clayton Cubbit, a photographer from New York said that this new policy is “Instagram’s suicide note” and another photographer said, “dear Instagram, you know I love you but this may just be a dealbreaker” and another one simply said, “I’m out”. National Geographic also said that they are “suspending new posts to Instagram. We are very concerned with the direction of the proposed new terms of service.”  

Celebrities would also have a lot to lose if Instagram decided to use their photos for ads. After all, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and the like make a great deal of their fortunes from advertising. Why would they just give photos of themselves to Instagram for free? Not only would they lose lots of money – but their brands could be damaged as well, as you never know what they would be associated with. And if the celebrities go, why would the ‘normal’ people stick around? Kim Kardashian, who has the most followers on Instagram, is already rumored to be considering leaving the platform, and even Zuckerberg’s sister supported the anti-Instagram cause by liking a post on Facebook called “Instagram’s suicide note”.

The ironic thing is, in their quest to make money to satisfy their parent company Facebook, all they have done is send people to other similar social platforms, such as Flickr and Starmatic. BBC reported that a source at Flickr said that they were “loving it” and they took the occasion to point out that they allow users to set usage permission for each and every picture they post. Starmatic, an app very similar to Instagram had been struggling since its launch 3 months ago, but on Tuesday, a day after Instagram made their announcement, over a million pictures where uploaded on the app which is double the amount posted since its been launched!

So why did they do it? With Facebook at the handles, they definitely had all the resources (i.e. money and brains) to get some decent lawyers to handle their T&Cs. Was it that they really hoped people wouldn’t notice? That couldn’t possibly be the case, could it? Considering the backlash that Facebook, for example, gets whenever they make the slightest changes (even if it is just the layout) how could Instagram think they would get out of this unscathed?

Instagram, compared to its parent company, doesn’t have what it takes to keep people no matter what. Facebook friendships and connections built over time by hundreds of millions of people are much harder to replace, and that’s why people don’t leave it. Instagram, as users proved with Starmatic on Tuesday, is actually very easily replaceable. And if the Kardashians, Justin Bieber or any celebrity decides to move to another Instagram-like social network, than it could be expected that their fans will follow.

What do you think of Instagram’s plans – was it all just a big misunderstanding, as they claim? Will you or your friends delete your Instagram accounts? And by the way, if you do decide to delete your accounts, do it before 16 January 2013 and use an app such as Instaport to download your photo archive.