December 20, 2012
Facebook’s Proposed Amended Sponsored Settlement and Instagram’s TOS Revs
[Post by Venkat Balasubramani]
I initially passed on blogging the amended proposed settlement agreement in Fraley v. Facebook, the Sponsored Stories class action lawsuit, but the recent changes to Instagram’s terms of service brought the issues to the fore.
The Fraley Claims: As detailed in several posts here, Fraley involved misappropriation claims based on Facebook’s Sponsored Stories initiative. Essentially, end users claimed that Facebook’s use of their posts for advertising purposes constituted an unauthorized exploitation of their publicity and personality rights. (Minors piled on separately.) Facebook couldn't easily extricate itself from the putative class action, and accordingly it settled. Its first attempt to settle the lawsuit did not meet with judicial approval—the court said that while the terms may be fair, it was not presented with sufficient information to evaluate its propriety. Facebook and the plaintiffs went back to the drawing board and made a few key changes to the proposed settlement. Not surprisingly, the second iteration met with approval.
Amended Settlement: One big change in the proposed settlement: Facebook offered up cash ($20 million settlement fund). It also supposedly offered users greater control over use of their likeness. The lawyers also made a helpful concession about the amount of requested fees that would go unchallenged.
it’s tough to assess the revised settlement in terms of the injunctive relief that it provides—it’s supposed to allow greater control over the use of end users’ likeness. However, the settlement is somewhat awkwardly worded in terms of control to end users. Facebook will create a mechanism that allows users to view their interactions that "have been" displayed in Sponsored Stories and will enable users to "control which of these interactions . . . are eligible to appear in additional Sponsored Stories." The peculiar combination of past and future tense in the phrasing should raise eyebrows. I guess a global opt-out was too much to ask for.
The Upshot: Given the majority opinion in Lane (the Beacon case), the original settlement seemed like it had a chance of being approved. As revised, I imagine it will easily receive final approval. Judge Seeborg already gave it his preliminary thumbs up.
Instagram TOS Changes: On a somewhat related note, Instagram recently unveiled changes to its terms of service. While it’s difficult to assess user reaction (Flickr was billed as the obvious beneficiary), celebrities, high profile users, and photographers all expressed their displeasure. It’s worth stopping to think about exactly what has changed. On this point, see this helpful redline from William Carleton. The big change (and one that may not be material) is the change from Instagram being able to “place . . . advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content,” to the following:
You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos . . . and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.
I don’t see this as a significant change to what Instagram can do with your photographs. The fact that the language of the revised terms tracks relevant language from the Amended Settlement Agreement in Fraley makes me think this is just a clean up change to bring Instagram’s terms into conformity with what is required of Facebook under the revised settlement.
Unfortunately, both the previous and current version fail to answer the key question about the scope of the license users grant: will usage only occur within the Instagram ecosystem, or can Instagram license out photos to third parties to use in other media (e.g., magazine ads or television)? Could my photo of a Seattle sunset end up in a Coca Cola ad where Instagram is paid money for usage of the photo? "Very IP" makes a persuasive case that new language around transferability or sublicensability means that Instagram can under the revised terms exploit content outside the ecosystem: "The Truth About Instagram." I'm not totally persuaded. In this litigious environment, particularly in light of Facebook's experience with Beacon and Fraley, any off-line rights would be clearly called out in its license agreement. Any other approach would just be inviting a lawsuit. In light of the (still pending) AFP v. Morel dispute (where AFP allegedly took photos from Twitpic and argued that it was entitled to a broad license to distribute content elsewhere), this clarity is important to users. I have no idea why Instagram dropped the ball on addressing this.
A day after the big online meltdown, Instagram’s founder published a post acknowledging user outcry and saying that it is committed to not “selling your photos” . . . whatever this means.
This was a classic example in how not to revise a terms of service. Instagram highlighted the revised terms clearly for users, but failed to anticipate what users would care about. Eric makes a few good points below about the terms that have me scratching my head. Did Instagram really leave in the "we can amend these terms whenever we want" provision in its revised terms? Ouch.
It's easy from our perspective to nitpick about the direction Instagram chose, but overall it feels unimaginative to me. They could have taken a variety of routes, ranging from offering users an opt-out (even a paid alternative) to granular control, to a revenue share (ad/brand marketplace?), but Instagram looks like it is doing what Facebook would do. Not surprising, but sort of a bummer for users. I guess it's a good illustration that the Fraley (and the FTC) settlement notwithstanding, Facebook is ready able and willing to override user preferences. [Query as to whether these changes in any way implicate the FTC consent decree covering Facebook, or the companies' promise to stay separate?]
Other coverage on the Instagram Issue:
EFF (Kurt O.): Instagram's New Terms of Service to Sell Your Photos
Comments from Eric on Instagram:
1) When Facebook bought Instagram, what did Instagram users think was going to happen? Of course Facebook was going to bring its special style of management to Instagram. The revised user agreement is part of the ongoing Facebook-ization of Instagram.
Added (comments from Venkat): In response to the feedback, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom announced in a blog post that Instagram is "reverting" the advertising language to what had been in effect from the beginning. (Here's the blog post: "Updated Terms of Service Based on Your Feedback" and here is a link to the revised terms.) The post also explains:
Going forward, rather than obtain permission from you to introduce possible advertising products we have not yet developed, we are going to take the time to complete our plans, and then come back to our users and explain how we would like for our advertising business to work.
Twitpic Modifies Terms and Claims Exclusive Rights to Distribute Photos Uploaded to Twitpic