Plaintiff Stephanie Sinclair brought suit against Defendant Mashable and its parent company, alleging copyright infringement when Mashable posted Sinclair’s photograph on its website without Sinclair’s authorization. The Court granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, finding that the Defendants had a valid sublicense from Instagram to post the photograph.
Stephanie Sinclair is an acclaimed photojournalist whose work addresses gender and human rights issues. She posts her photographs both on a searchable personal website and on her Instagram account. The particular photograph at issue in this case is entitled “Child, Bride, Mother/Child Marriage in Guatemala,” which concerns child brides in Guatemala. It was posted publicly on her Instagram account. Mashable is a digital media website, known for content generation and aggregating news stories from across the internet. Mashable reached out to Sinclair to license the photograph, but Sinclair refused Mashable’s offer. Mashable published the photograph anyway, embedding the Instagram version of the photograph in an article about female photographers and refusing Sinclair’s request to take the photograph down.
This decision represents an impossible choice for many artists, who must either limit their posts to private accounts and fail to receive any exposure, or post their work publicly and risk the work being exploited in a way that the artist would not approve. Especially given the current global pandemic, artists have few options to market their skills to interested buyers other than posting on the internet. Instagram should adopt a policy that always allows users to opt out of API use, even if photographs are publicly visible on their accounts.