In Defense of Infringing Influencers: Instagram and Copyright

In Defense of Infringing Influencers: Instagram and Copyright

Every so often we'll hear about certain influencers and photographers stealing photos or using stock images to develop and build their Instagram accounts. On the surface, this seems horrifically bad I mean really really bad (insert Trump gif) but if we take a minute to really consider things, is it? 

Now before the keys start flying off your keyboard as you furiously rage type a "TLDR" comment about how stealing images and deceiving your audience is wrong (and breathe), please hear me out. First of all, it's really hard, like super hard, to build a popular Instagram account. I've been trying for the last few years and honestly, I've thought about "borrowing" some images from Mike Kelley, (more recently Lee Morris) and hope that no one notices.

If anything I'm a little jealous I didn't come up with the idea to simply manipulate stock images and act as though they're mine. It's practically genius, take a bunch of images, some from popular stock sites, make a few changes and away you go. Honestly, I don't even think that violates the stock websites copyright. The only thing some influencers did wrong was that they didn't use Unsplash, I mean come on completely free images. Sure it's frowned upon but let's be real, what's the alternative, you can't expect someone to actually fly to Santorini to take the pictures, that's just crazy talk. 

I Blame Facebook

Remember the time before Facebook bought out Instagram, those truly were days. Fair enough I wasn't a professional photographer back then nor did I actually have an Instagram account, but still, Facebook ruined something special.

Instagram used to be a great place where pretty much anyone with some time and images could get seen and build an audience. Now we have Facebook banning groups of people trying to "collaborate" by creating pods and beat the algorithm. Things are tougher than ever their latest algorithm has only made things worse for many creatives, it's pretty much impossible to get any real results on Instagram now. Posts don't show up in chronological order, the people that follow you don't actually get to see all of your posts and instead, we're being fed a tonne of ads and suggested posts from people we don't even follow. Either we resort to unscrupulous methods or just stop using Instagram and we can't just stop cold turkey, we need the likes.  

Ok so, I'm not going to lie but two of those ads were interesting to me and I did click on them but still, I think I've made my point. 

I Blame Google

This might be a little bit of a stretch but bear with me on this one because I think I have a point here somewhere. Google has allowed people to search for and download images really easily for a good number of years. I admit I've done it too, I've downloaded a few images in the past before I joined the photography industry, I mean who hasn't. The problem is that this has developed a culture and a generation of people who think downloading images and using them for free is perfectly acceptable. I'm aware that in certain cases, images may have been taken from stock sites and other Instagram accounts as opposed to downloading from Google, but still, it's the culture. I admit this one is a bit of a leap but jump with me. 

I Blame The Photography Community

This one is pretty obvious and absolute, there are far too many over talented photographers in the industry. Seriously where are all of these photographers coming from, some of them don't even use proper cameras and still produce incredible images, it's simply ridiculous. How is anyone supposed to compete, aren't there any competition laws or something?

To make matters worse peoples attention spans are pretty much three seconds long because of the sheer amount of great content available online. This means even if you post an incredible image it's probably just going to get lost with all the rest of the incredible images. There are too many awesome images on Instagram and to stand out you need to be super incredibly awesome. Problem is, even if you are, the algorithm kicks in so you'll probably only get ten extra likes. 

Of course, people are going to try different methods in order to keep up, I mean I'm not going to fly all the way to Thailand for an extra ten likes. Every time I go on Instagram and I see people with a huge following and stunning images, I feel a little disheartened too and techniques like the ones used by some influencers don't seem half bad. Come on we've all thought about it, we just don't do it because we don't want to end up on the BBC. 

Let's Get Serious (Kinda)

I'm sure it can be frustrating to not see any results regardless of how much time and effort you put into something. The pressure to have a good following on social media can be a little too much on occasions and this may lead some of us to try "different" methods. Plenty of people have stolen images and I'm pretty confident whatever story you've read recently isn't going to be the last.

The easy way out can be really appealing to some of us because to get a large following is in fact very difficult. It requires a ridiculous amount of work and time, but that's true with almost anything that's worth having. If your current method isn't working then essentially you're doing it wrong. Figure out better methods and find solutions. Learn more about the platform and work harder or smarter and be patient. The alternative I guess is to maybe throw some stock images together, build an audience, wait for the outrage, throw in a quick Tony Hayward from South Park type apology, and then, as they say in England, Bob's your uncle. Heck the outrage itself can actually be a great way to get publicity, I mean it's not like people are going to remember a week later. 

No, but seriously, just don't do it, it's not a smart plan for the long term.  

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Christian Lainesse's picture

"First of all, it's really hard, like super hard, to build a popular Instagram account."

Time to reconsider your priorities in life?

Usman Dawood's picture

I regret nothing! :)

Jeff Walsh's picture

Maybe we can remind you of this comment in a few years when Instagram and other social media apps have taken over the marketing world and are fetching tv and radio prices because of how powerful they are. Imagine having the ability to market and advertise your business when tv commercials were stupidly inexpensive. I imagine people, then, were telling others what a waste of time and money it was

Christian Lainesse's picture

Fair observation, but if being popular is your true calling in life, along with commercial success as a goal, you should not look at it and tell yourself omg this is super hard. You just grin and bear and put in the required effort to achieve your goals.

Usman Dawood's picture

I love how seriously you took that section of the article haha.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Its not about being popular, its about effective attention for the purpose of selling. That's what tv and radio commercials have been about since forever. Not a popularity contest for the sake of being known. It's about having the attention of potential customers, and building a "community" around them using your brand. Thus when you deliver something of value that has a price tag attached you've already established a buyers foundation.

While I despise how they act, the Kardashians have absolutely capitalized on this aspect. Why and how? They have the attention of millions of people through their craziness. This is why they can charge insane amounts of money for things like sponsored posts on their social platforms.

They have the attention of a specific demographic, and they have influence over that audience. If your product or service fits within the demo of their audience, then having a Kardashian talk about your business will pay off in the multitudes.

Scale that down according to how much attention whatever influencer within your own market (the person who has the attention of a certain demographic) has over the market you're trying to reach and what we see is MASSIVELY under-priced marketing and advertising opportunities for highly targetable audiences.

This is why building a "popular" account NOW will pay off massively in the years to come because advertising and market is shifting toward social platforms.

imagei _'s picture

Usman, you are one lucky chap to have remembered about that Humour tag :-D

Usman Dawood's picture

Hit that tag before I started :-p

Pedro Pulido's picture

sorry, didn't really get the point of the article. what do we learn from this post besides irony ?! don't really get it to be honest.

Vickie Flaugher's picture

Really? What a pile of bs. Sure, be a cool kid fraud and a shortcut wiz using stock images within the allowable rules of those image banks, if you need to stoop so low. But, steal, use without permission, compensation, or credit, the images created by other artists (many who did bother to go to Santorini) to get your seratonin levels lit, then blame the photographers for the theft? Utter crap. Not seeing the humor. Hard to believe you even wrote the piece, even trying to be funny. Wow.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sarcasm seems to elude you.

Vickie Flaugher's picture

Perhaps. Most of what you wrote seems too sincere for comfort. What part of it were you being sarcastic about?

Paul Ojuara's picture

All the text but the last sentence?

Usman Dawood's picture

What Paul said :-).

Vickie Flaugher's picture

Ok, great. I guess then I stand corrected. Still not funny to me, but thank you for the reply. #TriggeredIConfess

Usman Dawood's picture

Oh, it's perfectly fine we don't always need to agree on what we find funny :)


Paul Ojuara's picture

Agreed. Anyway, just to be clear, I didn't think the article is funny, also. Sarcastic, indeed, (and kind of sad, because it shows things how they are, using a humorous perspective), but, for me, no funny at all.

Karim Hosein's picture

Sarcasm done right seems sincere AND over the top at the same time. ;-) :-D

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

You should blame your income too. Not enough money to buy follower, so easier to steal image.
Come on, be a bit pro and buy fake followers to boost your Instagram life. This is the easiest way to do it right!
On Facebook, 500 like are about 5USD... go go go (It's provided by Facebook itself!)

Usman Dawood's picture

Lol that’s awesome I completely forgot about buying followers haha.

axia roberts's picture

In elementary school we had these "tests" that told us to read everything before answering. The last sentence was always something along the lines of, "Once you've finished reading, write your name at the top and don't answer any of the questions. Good job on following instructions!" Clearly no one here ever had those tests, haha! I was so annoyed with you until I read that last sentence! That gave me a good laugh. XD

Vickie Flaugher's picture

So true. For me, by the time I got to the last sentence, my faith in the sincerity and morality of the author was so stretched that I figured the last sentence was "sarcastic" too.

Usman Dawood's picture

Ok, now that's funny haha.

Vickie Flaugher's picture

You definitely got me. I hate that sh&@#t, stealing from photographers. Sometimes it feels like I am the only one. :-/

imagei _'s picture

Haha, I didn't make it past the first section before I scrolled around looking for the 'Humour' tag. Only once I found it I kept reading :-P

Usman Dawood's picture

Don't worry I fell for that test too lol.

Deleted Account's picture

sometimes, I want to take photographers apart to remind them their product is pictures, not audience. Audience is a mean to get your product bought. Looking for audience as a goal for your creative job is as stupid as looking for taxes as a goal for your business.

Don't mistake operating constraints with businesse goals.