A while ago I wrote a post about a POD company charging an outrageous fee and warning authors that they were better off paying that fee because ‘you get what you pay for’. Today we have the other side of the coin,with Instagram revising its terms of service and claiming the right to license its users’ work for free and in perpetuity… do I even have to say that these terms are outrageous?
Now, I am not saying that Instagram (or to be accurate Facebook) doesn’t have the right to try to make money out of its services, that’s what businesses are supposed to do, but there is a difference between showing your users some ads while on your site, or even compiling a profile you can then use to target those ads to a specific audience, and taking your users’ content and selling that instead. That is where I feel Instagram/Facebook have crossed the line here, but at the same time I am not particularly surprised that they would try something like this… in fact that is why I have stuck with hiring a host and maintaining a rather old-fashioned website rather than join the social network revolution, even if doing that has cost me in terms of my ability to get the word out there that my books exist: I am all too aware of the dangers lurking in too many of these companies TOS.
The question is where is the balance. Personally I think it is a matter of common sense that has to be determined on a case by case basis. Right off the bat I can tell you that going with the most expensive option because ‘you get what you paid for’ is probably a bad idea as it would probably lead you straight to the door of someone looking to fleece you. On the other hand it is also true that when someone offers you a free service you have to ask yourself how are you going to be made to pay, because not all payments take the form of dollars and cents.
There may be some services, such as CreateSpace that don’t charge you an outright fee but have a business model that does enable them to turn a profit (of course, that one isn’t a social media site at all, but rather a POD publisher, so that they can afford to operate based on a more traditional business model), but on our increasingly virtual world these are the exception rather than the rule, and that means that there is a race to monetize ‘free’ services these content-grabs are likely to become more and more common… unless the backlash to this one is such that they have no choice but to backtrack (and let’s remember that this is not the first time someone tries something like this. A few eons ago GeoCities tried something similar… it didn’t take then and hopefully it won’t take now).
UPDATE: It looks like Instagram is already backtracking and claiming that they never meant what they said. For the time being they have reverted to an earlier version of their TOS.