Court Rules Photographer Gave Up Exclusive Copyright Licensing Rights by Posting to InstagramApril 16, 2020

In a controversial opinion, a New York federal court judge recently ruled that a professional photographer gave up exclusive licensing rights by posting a photo on Instagram.

The photographer, Stephanie Sinclair, posted a photo on the popular social media site, Instagram. Later, the news site Mashable contacted Sinclair requesting to use the photo for a story on female photographers (Article). Mashable offered Sinclair $50 to use the photo and she declined. Instead of using the photo directly, Mashable embedded the Instagram post in the article. Sinclair then filed suit for copyright infringement.

Instagram’s Terms of Use state that, by posting content to Instagram, the user “grant[s] to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to the Content that you post on or through [Instagram], subject to [Instagram’s] Privacy Policy.” Thus, because Sinclair uploaded the Photograph to Instagram and designated it as “public,” she agreed to allow Mashable, as Instagram’s sublicensee, to embed the photo in its website.

The Court found that Mashable used Sinclair’s photograph pursuant to a valid sublicense from Instagram and dismissed the Complaint for failing to state a valid copyright infringement claim.

It’s important to note that this federal district court opinion is not binding law of the U.S., this decision, and likely appeals, will potentially have significant ramifications to the intersection of copyright law and social media.

Brandon W. Clark is the Chair of the Copyright, Entertainment & Media Law Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information, please visit or contact Brandon directly via email at

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