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December 27, 2012

Instagram Sued Over Plan to Change Terms of Use

Instagram may have done some quick backtracking on the proposed changes to its terms of use that outraged its users last week, but not quickly enough to avoid being sued.

The photo sharing app’s new terms of service, which were to take effect next month, caused many users to threaten to leave the service. The wording of the planned terms of use led Instagram users to believe the company would have the right to grab users pictures and other data to promote itself on its website or in advertising without mention of or compensation to the owner of the images.

The lawsuit claims the proposed changes would “transfer valuable property rights to Instagram while simultaneously relieving Instagram from any liability for commercially exploiting customers’ photographs and artistic content, while shielding Instagram from legal liability.”

The complaint, filed by San Diego resident Lucy Funes in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, says Instagram is making a “grab for customer property rights,” while preventing its users from “obtaining injunctive or equitable relief.” The planned terms would also “artificially limit the statute of limitations for all claims against Instagram to one year,” the suit reads.

The lawsuit indicates Funes “is acting to preserve valuable and important property, statutory, and legal rights” before legal claims are “forever barred by adoption of Instagram’s new terms.”

Under the previously planned terms of use, Instagram said users could not opt out but could delete their accounts before the changes were to take effect Jan. 16.

The lawsuit says users who opted to cancel would forfeit the right to their photos. “In short, Instagram declares ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law and if you don’t like it, you can’t stop us. ‘” the lawsuit reads.

Reuters reported Facebook, which owns Instagram, has said the lawsuit is “without merit” and the social network would “fight it vigorously.”

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog the photo-sharing app is not only going back to its October 2010 terms of use, it has no present plans to roll out any new ad products that would require it to be changed.

“The concerns we heard about from you the most focused on advertising, and what our changes might mean for you and your photos,” Systrom wrote in a blog post. “There was confusion and real concern about what our possible advertising products could look like and how they would work. “Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010. You can see the updated terms here.”

Systrom also said the Facebook-owned company in the future would decide what products it wants to offer before changing the terms of use to ensure company lawyers do not draft a policy that gives the firm more latitude than it requires.

“Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work,” he wrote.