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Not snap-happy: Instagram hit with first class-action lawsuit after changes to TOS

Published time: December 25, 2012 08:35
Edited time: December 25, 2012 12:35
AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

Instagram is facing a civil lawsuit as a result of the changes it introduced to its Terms of Service (TOS) last week, prompting user backlash, protests and many threats to quit the photo-sharing app.

The lawsuit comes after Instagram announced changes to its TOS last week to include worrisome stipulations, such as the power to sell users’ photos without warning or compensation, and a mandatory arbitration clause, forcing users to waive their rights to participate in a class-action lawsuit except under very limited circumstances.

Following public outrage, Instagram backpedaled on the announced changes by deleting some of the language about using photos for advertisements without compensation.

However, the company retained the mandatory arbitration clause and kept the ability to place ads in conjunction with user content, indicating that “we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.”

Following that, the class-action suit was filed in San Francisco federal court by San Diego-based law firm Finkelstein & Krinsk on behalf of Instagram user Lucy Funes and “others similarly situated”, accusing the company of breach of contract, among other claims.

The new TOS is said to kick in on January 16 and there is no opt-out option for current users.

The lawsuit argues that users who do not agree with Instagram's terms can only get out by deactivating their profile, but in that case they forfeit rights to photos they had previously posted.

"In short, Instagram declares that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law and if you don't like it, you can't stop us,’” the lawsuit states.

Moreover, the new TOS would absolve Instagram of any legal liabilities. The lawsuit argues that valuable property rights are being transferred to Instagram “while simultaneously relieving the company from any liability for commercially exploiting customers' photographs and artistic content”, argues the suit.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram earlier this year for US$715 million, has denounced the lawsuit, arguing it has no weight.

“We believe this complaint is without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” stated Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes.

Tens of thousands of Instagram users in California are eligible to join the class-action lawsuit, with the court yet to make a decision as to whether or not the case will be heard.