The Instagram Act

Found an image online? No problem, it’s yours, take it!..... caveats, T&Cs and small print applies.

A law has passed recently which you should know about (I assume you have or manage a website, or use social media?). The new law passed dubbed by the media as ‘The Instagram Act’, or Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, will mean any images found online that are ‘orphaned’ , having no owner attributions, are free to be used for your own personal gain (UPDATE: Clarification has required that a licence is to be obtained from a Govt body). Could this mean that the vast majority of images found online are available for you to commercially use, so long as you have undertaken a ‘diligent’ search to find the true owner of the image?

OK, so that seems relatively straight forward doesn’t it? No owner available, no ownership… well not quite. As more and more images are uploaded, downloaded, shared and edited owner details are very easily lost, changed and possibly deliberately removed. An uncomfortable sight for those users out there that quite rightly want to try and protect their image copyright.

In *principle*, I do think this is a step forward! The internet is and always should remain an open technology, anything uploaded that has been posted with openness in mind should, within reason, be available for all to use. Though it is concerning that this law makes it more difficult for owners of images to protect their property (which is so very important!)

UPDATE: There has recently been clarification that a request and purchase of a licence must be subsequently made to a Govt body before being able to use the image. I wonder how realistic this will be given the current activity on the internet?

What to do you if you are thinking of using an image online

How we recommend performing a ‘diligent’ and responsible (!) search: 

  • View the page from which you have found the image and search for obvious ownership details 
  • Drag the image file into http://images.google.co.uk/ to find other places online this is available (perform a reasonable search in this area) 
  • Search the meta tags and file name description (right click and view file details) 
  • We recommend going as far as to contact the Instagram or even Facebook user if you believe that the account is the owner creator 
  • ….still can’t reliably find and contact the owner. If you now want to use the image, you'll need to contact a Govt authorising body (tba) that will provide you with a licence for use.

I’m an owner of images online

This is a much more difficult list to compile as almost all can either be circumvented, result in spam, reduce image quality or cost money – but it’s important to know the options nevertheless.

  • Ensure that contact details are clearly available on the page in which the image is available
  • Add ownership details within the files meta tags 
  • Add an image watermark (for those very keen to retain control) 
  • And for those who are super keen to ensure retain control – Register the image on a service such as https://www.plusregistry.org

*Update 17 May 2013 – src: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/hargreaves-orphanmyth.pdf