When Will Instagram Tell Us How Much Money It Makes From Your Stolen Content?

Earlier this week, Instagram published a blog detailing information on how its algorithms work and why transparency is important when it comes to building trust. With that in mind, when will Instagram tell us how much money it makes from allowing the millions of possible copyright infringements that happen every single day?

Penned by Instagram head Adam Mosseri, the blog post seeks to demystify how the platform chooses what you see in your feed, why some posts get more engagement than others, and how Instagram decides what to show you on the Explore page. Mosseri explains the countless signals that Instagram takes from you using the app to then shape your experience, figuring out who you want to see, and what sort of content you enjoy.

“The Explore page,” Mosseri explains, “was designed to help you discover new things.” He goes on: “To find photos and videos you might be interested in, we look at signals like what posts you’ve liked, saved, and commented on in the past.” This is exactly what you would expect, which also explains why community/feature accounts have such a heavy presence in the average Explore page. Glancing at my own, around four out of every ten posts are from accounts that do not share original content. Almost undoubtedly, many of these accounts post content for which they do not have permission.

Freebooting Makes Money

My Explore page. Four of the first 11 posts are from community/feature accounts.

Posting photos and videos that you don’t own or have permission to post breaches Instagram’s Terms and Conditions, so why would Instagram be so keen to promote accounts that ignore this rule? Very simply: this is prime content, prompting users to spend more time on the app. If the intellectual property owner doesn’t complain, the infringement goes unnoticed. In addition, a large enough proportion of creators don’t mind seeing their work being used, happy for the exposure, or simply indifferent to the theft as these copyright infringements have been completely normalized by the platform. Feature accounts that steal people’s photos and videos typically have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of followers, and each day views of copyright-breaching content must be in the millions.

"DM for credits." A depressingly familiar caption found when you click through to an account listed on Instagram's Explore page. Why does Instagram actively promote freebooted content?

These views account for a massive proportion of what the average user sees when scrolling Instagram, in turn generating revenue through advertising. Instagram has created a situation where a vast chunk of the content it serves is stolen, relying on the fact that only copyright holders can report it, and creating an environment where such theft is just a regular part of the Instagram experience. Instagram’s Terms and Conditions mean that it cannot be Tumblr, and yet that is exactly what it has become.

Instagram has proven that its algorithms are incredibly smart and you can safely assume that its engineers are more than clever enough to eliminate freebooted content — if they wished. However, such a move would cut into its bottom line, and there's currently no reason for it to voluntarily put a dent in its share price.

Users Deserve More Transparency, Mr. Mosseri

Instagram’s efforts at transparency are welcome, if overdue, and some insights into its algorithms are appreciated, even if it does little more than confirm people’s assumptions. However, if Instagram is genuinely interested in transparency, it should tell us how many posts are freebooted, and how much ad revenue it generates as a result. On what scale are creators are being scammed, and is Instagram making hundreds of millions of dollars as a result?

Mr. Mosseri, if you’re reading, some transparency on this subject would be welcome. We look forward to your next blog post.

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18 Comments

Bryan York's picture

Well said Andy!
I left Instagram earlier this year after reading about the policy changes they slipped under the carpet back in early December. I was very frustrated and discouraged that there were not any good alternatives to the app and for network purposes ended up rejoining. This time around I am focusing on networking and not trying to figure out the algorithms or playing by their rules.

I wonder just how "transparent" do they intend to be. I suspect we won't get much deeper than the surface anytime soon. However, I have heard whispers that Instagram is slowly dying off?

Good article!

Andy Day's picture

😊🙏🏻

Ed C's picture

You are sure they are making huge amounts of profit from stolen money but everything in the article is about ambiguity and terms like almost certainly. Their choice is stay in business or don't. They, nor any other social platform is going to chase down every post to see if it is violating someone else's IP. They can't afford to. Nobody can.

It's pretty simple really. If you don't get value out of posting there then don't. There are many non-Instagram options available in the world so don't use their platform that they pay to upkeep.

John Nixon's picture

Well, Instagram is a business and it’s there to make money. Me, I’m a consumer of Instagram, I enjoy seeing the images others post. The images I post are images I’m happy to share and I’m not especially bothered what happens to them thereafter. Images I don’t want ‘stolen’, I don’t post on Social Media platforms.

Stuart C's picture

Fully agree. People seem to spend their lives finding the problems with everything these days, and completely ignore all the great things something has to offer. Some of the best inspiration I've had is from my Instagram feed.

Jan Holler's picture

You will never get an answer to that. I bet, you know it. I avoid Instagram.

Iain Lea's picture

After numerous problems over the years using "social" media and various photography platforms I developed my own image DB system with plugins that takes the fullsize image I want to post to platform X and resizes it to 1024px... squares it to 1024px x 1024px and adds a QR code... caption text autogenerated from info I entered when I added the image to the DB. Also every sensual image has a censured version so if social media the censured image is used.

Since I have implemented that I have no more stolen images and lots more time for more productive things in life.

Marc Perino's picture

This is an interesting approach.
But - if I were a bad actor - I could still crop your QR code and retouch your copyright line.
You cannot prevent that from happening. But still the stolen image problem was reduced?

How do you search for stolen images? Google reverse search, tineye, yandex or something else?

Andrew Almeida's picture

I left Instagram about a year ago and I don't miss it. With all the controversy, how can anyone trust Instagram? You should consider leaving Instagram too.

J.d. Davis's picture

Just one of many reasons NONE of my work is online.

J.d. Davis's picture

Have to ask,
Marius Pettersen
Stuart C
and
Deacon Blues

Why the downvote?

Simple reasoning - if it isn't online it isn't stealable!

Deacon Blues's picture

Oh, another one of *those* rants... How do you propose services like IG police content if they have no idea who owns what? Just saying "first uploader is the creator, everyone else is a freeloader" is obviously way too coarse and doesn't even factor in the possibility that the first uploader might have stolen the picture. And what about collaboration projects where the photographer, the talent, the MUA and an assistant all share the same picture from the results... should the algorithm automatically brand three of those as thieves?

"you can safely assume that its engineers are more than clever enough to eliminate freebooted content — if they wished" - sorry, but LOL. This just makes you look like someone who sees a problem and says "well, I don't know how this could be solved, but some clever engineer should figure out a way to do it with AI", then demands such a solution be created without even pondering its feasibility.

Andy Day's picture

I would reply explaining my reasoning but your comment was so unnecessarily snarky that I see there's no point.

Tundrus Photo's picture

"Social media" isn't social. It's making money off the masses. Given the platform content and they give you the platform. Of course, what they really want is your data which is more valuable than your content. Facebook figured this out and it's why it owns Instagram.

Rhonald Rose's picture

Their business model is pretty much public (how they make money). Also they file k-10 reports as part of Facebook. If you don't like a platform, you are free to leave.

It goes the same with all the platforms to an extent. They are here to make money.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

I'm filtering away all social media. I'm too fond of keeping my privacy private. And i'm not accepting that companies make gains on something that is as dear to me as what i do and what i think and what i watch.

When i cannot watch that contact - that's sad, but i don't care. That's the price to pay.

I absolute dislike facebook - and i'm also a bit responsable for their troubles in Belgium with the GBA (the privacy commission)... That's a long story - but i found some proof that facebook tracks users that are not logged into their system. And that's not allowed in Europe through the GDPR.

Thanks to the hard work of mr. Schrems we'll have the ability to hurt them a lot. I'm helping nyob to battle them? Why don't you help 'm too: https://noyb.eu/en

Once your data are gone - they're gone forever. That's what is important to us - keep private what should be kept private.

Sean Molin's picture

I have to admit, I’ve never seen “DM for credits,” but holy crap is that an absurd level of pettiness. I don’t think *anything* screams “I don’t want to give credit” than that — at least even leaving credit off allows for the plausibility it was an innocent oversight!

paul stickman's picture

What’s next? An article complaining about how your camera got stolen from your unlocked car?
This is BS, don’t use the service if you don’t like it. Are app devs not entitled to make $ after yrs of work?