As is the case for most social media networks, photos and videos can be shared in seconds and thousands of users can view the same image or video within the first few moments after clicking the post. And, in a matter of minutes, that new funny photo or quarantine workout can be shared with hundreds of followers.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms to date. It allows members to access and share photographs or videos. Accounts can be either private or public. Private accounts require the account holder's permission to follow the account and see posts or stories. Public accounts do not, and posts are readily available for anyone to see.
In the past, it has been generally understood that in order to avoid copyright infringement, you should obtain permission prior to re-posting or sharing an image, story or video on social media platforms. However, the court in Sinclair concluded that Plaintiff's claims against Mashable, who re-posted Sinclair's public Instagram post containing a photograph on Mashable.com, failed as a matter of law and granted Mashable's motion to dismiss even though Mashable did not have direct authorization from Sinclair for the re-post.
Plaintiff Stephanie Sinclair is a gender and human rights photographer known for her visual expressions of those issues around the world. In this case, Sinclair claimed she owns an exclusive United States copyright in the image titled "Child, Bride, Mother/Child Marriage in Guatemala," a photograph she took herself and posted to her public Instagram page.
Defendant Mashable, an entertainment and media website, contacted Sinclair and sought a license for that photograph to use in an article for publication on its website. Sinclair was offered $50 for licensing rights. She declined the offer. Mashable posted the article and used Sinclair's photograph anyway. Sinclair demanded the photograph be taken down, Mashable refused and the lawsuit ensued.
Mashable filed a motion to dismiss the operative complaint, on the primary grounds that it was a sublicensee of Instagram, who granted Mashable sublicensing rights for the re-post. The court agreed, holding that Mashable's re-post of the photograph was authorized pursuant to a valid sublicense from Instagram.
It is well-recognized that a copyright owner may license her rights to works. And where those licenses permit sub-licenses, the copyright owner cannot bring an infringement lawsuit against that sublicensee. United States Naval Inst. v. Charter Commc'ns Inc., 936 F. 2d 692, 695 (2d Cir. 1991).
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