Facebook and all of its subsidiaries, including Instagram, are no strangers to facing an array of legal battles. Facebook famously came under fire in 2018 for harboring lobbyist campaigns enacted by the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica data firm that were extrapolated from siphoned user data that came directly from Facebook. Essentially, Facebook infringed upon people’s rights. Two professional photographers who frequently utilized Instagram as a place to showcase their work felt the same way when they realized third-party companies were using Instagram’s embed feature to repost their work without permission and filed suit against the company. However, this time Instagram walked away the victor when a California judge ruled against the photographers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the class action lawsuit was initially filed in May by Alexis Hunley and Matthew Brauer. The two photographers claimed that Instagram bore partial responsibility for the repeated copyright infringements against the artists’ original work by third-party entities because Instagram’s embed feature allowed them to repost their work. Hunley and Brauer were essentially suggesting that Instagram’s embed feature was the facilitator of the infringements.
Hunley and Brauer had substantial legal footing to back the case. Copyright Lately explained that Instagram was being held liable on three counts of infringement. The first count was the Inducement of Copyright Infringement, which suggests that Instagram encourages users to violate copyright laws. Next was Contributory Copyright Infringement, which asserts that Instagram provides what is necessary for a user to easily commit the infraction. Lastly was Vicarious Copyright infringement, which suggests that Instagram has the ability to prevent transgressions.
However, in July, Instagram’s lawyers employed a motion to the court on the grounds that the embed feature does not directly correlate to copyright infringement and asked for the complaint to be dismissed. Reuters detailed that the attorneys filed the motion citing the outcome of the Perfect 10 Vs. Amazon case. The aforementioned case also dealt with copyright infringement. Ultimately Amazon won on the basis that since they were not storing, promoting, or distributing the infringed photos they could not be held responsible for a third party’s actions.
U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer sided with Instagram and granted the motion. However, this case could really be just beginning because even though Judge Breyer allowed the motion to go through, he also gave the plaintiffs time to rework and resubmit their initial complaint. Thus, the definitive outcome still remains to be seen.
It could be quite sometime before the ultimate result of the lawsuit against Instagram is determined. However, In a world characterized by a globally social age and digital data it seems as though people fall into one of two courts where social media is concerned, celebrities included. People tend to either denounce it or embrace it. Scarlett Johansson has long supported the former. In contrast, Angelina Jolie, after years of avoiding social media, has decided to begin using it in order to better support her philanthropic endeavors. Still, whatever camp one falls into in terms of their stance on social media platforms, with the newness and uncertainty of the digital age there is sure to continue to be muddy waters ahead.