Instagram or Instagrand Theft

Instagram or Instagrand Theft

Instagram or Instagrand Theft:

The Copyright Cost of Instagram for the Contemporary Artist, an Issue, or an Opportunity?


While having an online presence is nothing new for artists in this age of digital domination, the social media platform Instagram is at the forefront of professional networking for contemporary artists.  A media platform that is simply run on imagery seems like the perfect place for artists to gain exposure. What could be more beneficial than a personally curated array of artwork open for virtual public display? However, the waters of this opportune sea are a bit murkier than we would like to think… In fact, the average artist knows little about the copyright laws in place, (or not) to protect their creative, intellectual property.

Instagram seeks to inform its users about usage and privacy through their online Help Center, but any direct answers to questions of copyright seem to be clouded in legal jargon and links to government sources. The more the copyright regulations of Instagram are steeped in mystery, the more power Instagram will have over users. The issue at stake is not only possible copyright infringement by other users, but also the potential for copyright infringement by Instagram itself. Instagram’s Help Center makes no mention of what rules or expectations are currently in place to protect user content.

Instagram has a dark underbelly that cannot be ignored. Once a user uploads an image to Instagram, it is unclear who then owns the image; the artist, Instagram, or anyone else who might want to repost or take a screenshot of the image. In her article in the Washington Post, staff writer, Jessica Contrera, examines the recent exhibition by artist Richard Prince. In Prince’s series, “New Portraits,” he displayed prints of images taken from Instagram without the consent of the original users who uploaded them. He was then able to sell each print “for $90,000” (Contrera n.p.). Controversial sales such as these did not go unchallenged. In fact, in the court ruling the main criteria that protected Prince was that, “his works were ‘transformative’” (Contrera n.p.).

Richard Prince,  New Portraits (2014)  at the Gagosian Gallery, New York. Image:

Richard Prince, New Portraits (2014) at the Gagosian Gallery, New York. Image:

By altering the images—even minimally—Prince was able to claim ownership of the content. This scenario raised many questions of copyright and namely, how Instagram would stand on this issue. In a published response, Instagram responded that their limits of involvement in image infringement cases only apply to images posted within the platform itself. Contrera comments that, if infringement occurs “somewhere outside of the social network, like a fancy New York gallery, you’re on your own” (n.p.). Realizing that Instagram is not policing the influence of its platform on intellectual property, one cannot help but begin to question how much protection artistic imagery has from being co-opted by corporations, businesses or the government. This concern, though, could feel paralyzing, preventing any involvement by the artist online, which does little to advance the work of an emerging artist.

Just as Instagram’s use increased exponentially in 2015, from its start in 2010, author and New York Times contributor, Nina Siegal, in her article, “Instagram Takes on Growing Role in the Art Market,” explores the expanding implications of Instagram on the art world (Siegal n.p.). From a positive perspective, Instagram allows artists to bridge the gap between their artistic process, and the often-sterile, white cube environment of the gallery space. Siegal even goes as far as to say that Instagram, “has emerged as the social media platform of choice for many contemporary artists, galleries, auction houses and art collectors, who use it to promote art that they are selling and to offer a behind-the-scenes look in art studios, auction houses and art fairs” (n.p.). This exposure surely could be beneficial for both established artists and those developing.

As an art student myself, I, like many of my classmates, have used Instagram for networking within the local and within the national art scene. Instagram can act as a snapshot of an artist’s portfolio in an easy-to-scroll platform, where it also easy to share pictures of works in progress. This is important because Instagram presents a setting where an artist can present unfinished work, making both the artist and the artmaking process accessible.

Although there may, or may not be, a direct answer to the validity of Instagram for the artist, when used consciously (and perhaps ignoring the platform’s inherent risks,) Instagram can be an important tool. Awareness is the key here. Artists today still need to question the implications of sharing their work on social media platforms like Instagram; but this awareness should not be a deterrent. Perhaps if more artists are involved in protecting their work, the risk of having images stolen will decrease in the near future. After all, instant (or in this case, “Insta-“ ) sharing with a global network gives artists the opportunity to reach a large number of members of the art community. This exposure is especially important for new artists, offering a potential scale of exposure normally limited to blue-chip gallery-represented artists. In this way, platforms like Instagram allow the everyday artist to have a voice in the larger art scene. Double tap.




Works Cited

Contrera, Jessica. "A Reminder That Your Instagram Photos Aren’t Really Yours: Someone Else Can Sell Them for $90,000." The Washington Post. WP Company, 25 May 2015. Web. 09 May. 2017.

Instagram Help Center. "About Copyright." Instagram. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May. 2017.

Siegal, Nina. "Instagram Takes on Growing Role in the Art Market." Editorial. The New York TImes 10 Aug. 2015: C3. The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Aug. 2015. Web. 09 May 2017.


Written by Meggie Bailey



Practical Arts Advocacy: Protesting through Education

Practical Arts Advocacy: Protesting through Education

Just Curious [About This] Collection

Just Curious [About This] Collection