Stolen Images on Instagram

I’ve had an Instagram account for about three years. I swing between loving this particular platform, and hating it. I really can’t remember why I decided to start on Instagram, but initially I barely used it. Sharing images is quite personal to me I suppose. I still find it quite a difficult thing to do, in a way that I suspect other people don’t. All the images I post say things about me and I’m not always sure how other people read them, or if others will like or agree with the person or values they see presented.

At the moment I have about 700 followers on Instagram, although this number can jump up by 20 or 30 followers in the course of a day if I’m in London, or drop by a similar amount if I’m at home and not posting much. I want to say it doesn’t matter to me, but I’m being honest here; it does matter. The question I need to ask myself is why? I suppose it feels like some kind of validation of an image when I post it and it gets a lot of likes or people start following my account because of it. And that really frustrates me about myself, because I know it’s stupid. I can see for myself that it’s not the best photographers that have the most followers. It’s not the great images that get the most likes. Images that get thousands of likes are often impressive but essentially boring, as they’re basically the same image over and over again.

Once I posted an image of my children walking down Tottenham Court Road. It was a snap on my iPhone taken while I was walking to The British Museum. The light was beautiful and the shadows were long and deep; it was a moment I wanted to capture. I had my phone in my pocket and so I took the image. I posted it some months later, using filters and editing tools in the app to change it to the monochrome shot I’d originally had in mind when I’d taken it. A few people ‘liked’ it. I thought nothing more of it, until a few weeks later I saw it come up in my own feed, posted as someone else’s image. Not reposted; not crediting me, just posted as their own on an account which had about fifteen thousand followers.

I suppose my instant reaction was to feel quite flattered by the thousands of ‘likes’, and  comments about what a great shot it was. But the idea that the person posting had claimed it as their own annoyed me; to do that they had stolen it from me and were now taking credit for it. My children were in it, so it was quite personal. That was harder, I think, than had it been some other subject. You can’t see their faces; but that’s not the point. I blocked the person who had used it, and asked my son to follow their account to check that they weren’t posting more of my images. However, my son was so outraged that he posted comments under the image saying ‘That’s my mum’s photo, not yours’, which predictably resulted in him being blocked and presumably his comments being removed.

I’ve had other images shared or reposted and been credited in them. I’m okay with that. Several local companies have used images I took in Swanage, a London tourist site used an image I took, an American journalist wrote to me to ask to use an image I’d taken, and I’ve seen my images pop up on Pinterest now too.

I want to continue sharing on Instagram, but if someone is getting acknowledged for those images then I want that someone to be me! So what do I do? A friend of mine watermarks her images but it seems like a way to ruin what for me is part of the point of Instagram. Part of the attraction is of being able to share instantly. Having to watermark puts a process in the way of that. Plus it’s easy to remove if it’s on the edge of an image and across the middle it ruins the whole thing, even with the most beautiful fonts and designs.

january upload (81 of 103)
Instagram images with the most impressions
january upload (82 of 103)
Instagram images with the most likes

I can tell if people are saving my images; they do, and I’m okay with that. I sometimes see images I like and save them for various reasons – they’re family, they’re inspirational, they’re other OCA students whose work gives me ideas, they resonate with me in some way. There are all sorts of reasons, but I don’t use them as my own.

At the end of 2016 I met the actor Brendan Fraser in New York. I understand that if I put photos of that on Instagram they will find their way onto a lot of other platforms. I did put one image from that day on Instagram with an awful filter over it to stop it being shared. However, even like that a friend recently contacted me to tell me it had appeared on a Russian Pinterest site. It was quite funny that they’d use such a crap image really. But had the original, unfiltered photo appeared then that would have upset me.

I still post to Instagram most days. It’s the social media platform I enjoy most because of the lack of politics and sniping. To me, Instagram seems generally positive. The comments are usually nice, it’s not a place where political arguments seem to happen, and when adverts telling me to vote Conservative came up in my feed in the context they looked as ridiculous as their suggestion so the annoyance I’d usually have felt didn’t happen. I just wish my images weren’t getting stolen.

Published by Sarah Cassin Scott


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