Instagram Embed API position may have just broken embedding on the web

    Facebook-owned Instagram is the centre of some new controversy over the issue of embedding posts from the service on a news website.

    As reported by Ars Technica, Newsweek used a photograph taken by professional photographer Elliot McGucken. He captured a lake in Death Valley full of water when it’s often dry. Like many photographers who capture something unique, McGucken was clearly proud of the photo.

    Newsweek wanted to use the photo and as normal, asked to license the work, but McGucken turned down their offer. Obviously a story without a photo wasn’t going to work, so Newsweek decided to embed an Instagram post containing the photo instead. McGucken then sued for copyright infringement.

    While that’s a pretty crappy thing to do, given the clearly knew McGucken didn’t want them using the photo. Generally users publishing content on social media services are chasing likes, shares and generally higher visibility of their content.

    Inherit in virtually all social networks is the ability to share a post, to a website (using embed Javascript or iframes), to enabling the creator to get credit and have views still be counted.

    With every user being aware that embeds exist (and currently can’t be disabled on Instagram), I would think it’s fair to be expected that people could and would embed content on public Instagram accounts.

    When things got ugly, Instagram got involved and provided a comment on embedding that could have far-ranging effects on embedding across the industry.

    A Facebook company spokesperson told Ars via email that:

    “While our terms allow us to grant a sub-license, we do not grant one for our embeds API. Our platform policies require third parties to have the necessary rights from applicable rights holders. This includes ensuring they have a license to share this content, if a license is required by law.”

    Essentially this is Instagram saying, if you use the embed feature, you’re own your own when it comes to legal cases around using it. Wow.

    Instagram are reportedly looking at controls that would give content authors like professional photographers, the ability to disable embedding. Personally, I still don’t understand why any person or business would post content on a social media platform and not want it shared, that’s kind of the point.

    One possible reason for someone not wanting embeds to be permitted with their content is that direct links could potentially showcase other posts and impress people enough to follow them. Given this is also a click away in an embedded post, this use case is a bit of a stretch.

    A far more likely reason is that a photographer or content creator, simply doesn’t like a particular website. This means any control over embedding content is likely going to need to be more fine grained than a simple on or off for each post, rather provide a whitelist/blacklist model which would also be a nightmare to maintain.

    Given Instagram is a Facebook company, it’s likely that we’ll see the ramifications of this decision impacting much more of the web and could fundamentally change how we approach embedding.

    If we now need to get explicit written permission before using every photo or video shared, there’ll simply be a lot less of it done, removing credit for amazing work done by artists and having a cooling effect on the whole industry.

    I encourage you to go read the full post at Ars Technica.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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