I followed with interest the confusing changes to Instagram’s terms of service that, for a while at least, seemed to indicate that parent company Facebook was claiming the right to license all public Instagram photos for commercial uses, including advertising.

The resulting outcry led Instagram to issue an apology and announce that it was going back to the original terms of use that they have had since they started up in 2010.

Over the years there have been rumors about Google+ owning my content, and Facebook owning it, and then Pinterest came along and staked a claim to it as well. 

I will admit that on those rare occasions when I do read terms of service, I rarely understand them completely. They are usually huge and complicated, but I am told that I have to agree to them before I get to use something that I want to use.

I have always operated under the assumption that every time I share a photograph on a website that I do not own, I share some of the rights to it — but that isn’t the same as giving up all of the rights to it.

After I load the photos of my listings into our multiple listing service they get watermarked and become the property of the MLS. But that doesn’t mean that I give up my rights to the original photograph. I can still use it any way that I choose.

When people buy my photographs I grant them license to use the photo or to print it. But I do not give up my right to the photograph, and I make that clear to the buyer. I can reproduce and sell each photograph as many times as I wish.

Stock photography services often work the same way — the artist grants certain rights to others, usually for a fee, while retaining ownership and copyright.

I enjoy using Instagram and will continue to use it. I like the way the filters work, the ease of uploading photos and the small group of people that I interact with. Most are local and I see them on a regular basis as we attend many of the same events.

Maybe I should worry about someone making money off of my Instagrams, but I don’t. I won’t be putting a watermark on them, because it would slow me down and take away some of the enjoyment I get from taking random photos with my phone and instantly sharing them.

Photographs have been a large part of my online presence and marketing strategy for many years. Some of my photos end up getting stolen. Some of those stolen photographs end up on business websites and in advertisements. I consider it the price I have to pay for sharing digital images.

Each time I put a photograph anywhere on the Internet I am granting another entity the right to display my photograph, and I am losing some control over it. That is a small price to pay for using a site for free that gets a lot of traffic and that I don’t own or have to maintain.

That said, it doesn’t seem wise to build your entire Web presence, marketing system or a real estate empire around a free photo sharing application that mostly resides on mobile devices and that could be changed at anytime with no warning. It is always possible that Instagram will find a way to monetize the site that we don’t agree with.

If Instagram photos are going to be used for advertising it might be wise to save copies of them and share them on websites and blogs and on property marketing sites outside of the Instagram application. Consider starting a blog and using it to share photos.

There are real estate agents who use Instagram to market their listings. Many don’t display the name of their brokerage or the state in which they are licensed on those advertisements. Even free advertising campaigns on free photo sharing applications should be done responsibly and correctly.

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