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Instagram rolls back terms of service after ownership dustup

The photo-sharing service's terms of service will revert to their original, 2010 form after a user backlash over image ownership.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read

Instagram has backpedaled on changes to its terms of service that appeared to let the maker of the photo-sharing app sell users' images, with founder and CEO Kevin Systrom announcing today that the terms will revert to the version in place since the service launched in 2010.

Facebook-owned Instagram ignited a storm of protest with the announcement earlier this week that it was claiming perpetual rights to sell users' photographs without notifying or compensating the photographer. Under that new policy, Facebook claimed the right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, effectively transforming the Web site into the world's largest stock photo agency.

One irked Twitter user quipped at the time that "Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won't have to pay you anything to use your images."

Since the publication of the updates, Systrom wrote in a company blog post today, "it became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities -- to communicate our intentions clearly. I am sorry for that, and I am focused on making it right."

"Going forward," Systrom wrote, "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."

The updated terms of service and privacy policy will go into effect on January 19, he said.

Systrom also denied that the company ever intended to sell users' images.

"I want to be really clear: Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don't own your photos -- you do," he said.

The app maker apologized to its users yesterday, saying it would "remove" language from its legal terms that would have let it sell users' photos or use them in advertisements. Systrom said it's "our mistake that this language is confusing" and that the company is "working on updated language."

The user revolt came three months after Facebook completed its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing service, which has more than 100 million users, and follows recent efforts by the social network to increase revenue.