Like all social media sites, Instagram – which is owned by Facebook –faces many challenges in maintaining the safety of individuals by maintaining rules on how they deal with issues like harassment, intellectual property, and copyright.

Instagram and Content Regulation

Instagram had become a hit social media app during the time of its release with it’s innovative photo sharing social media setup. It has since been bought by Facebook, another giant in the technology industry. Since then, Instagram has risen to become one of the major faces of mainstream social media. However, this also makes it dangerous because with more users, it also becomes more susceptible to generally inappropriate content. In this article, we will go through basic guidelines according to what Instagram does and does not tolerate.

Instagram’s Rules on Harassment

If an account on Instagram is ever created with the intent of harassing another user on the platform or if a photo or comment is intended to bully or harass someone, Instagram advises users to report it. Because Instagram is owned by Facebook both platforms share the same criteria in regards to what they classify as harassment

  • Repeated contact with someone in a manner that is unwanted or sexually harassing or directed at a large number of individuals
  • Targeting anyone maliciously by making statements with intent to bully or harass
  • Calling for self-injury or suicide of a specific person, or group of people
  • Attacks through derogatory terms related to sexual activity
  • Posting content about a violent tragedy, or victims of violent tragedies
  • Acting/pretending to be a victim of an event
  • Threatening to release an individual’s private phone number, residential address, or email address
  • Creating Pages or Groups that are dedicated to attacking individuals

Instagram Combats Harassment

Instagram added two new tools to combat harassment and bullying on the platform. The platform automatically hides comments that look like they might constitute bullying even if they aren’t obvious and sends a new warning message for users whose comments are repeatedly flagged as toxic.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has said that the platform is taking steps to “better support the black community” and will review how it recommends content and deals with harassment and verification and laid out key areas where Instagram has heard complaints from black users about bias.

Inappropriate Images

Some users may want content removed off of Instagram if the posts contain inappropriate imagery. Instagram clearly indicates that it does not permit users to post images of nudity. However, this rule does come with some exceptions such as images of mothers “actively breastfeeding”, “post-mastectomy scarring”, and “nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures”. Otherwise, Instagram can remove content that displays nudity and users can also report the content for it to be removed.


Spam, the act of repeatedly bombarding online users with unwanted information, is another common activity on social media platforms and Instagram is not exempt from this. Thus, users may want activity that resembles spam content to be removed. Luckily, Instagram indicates that it does not allow for spam content to be on Instagram posts. Instagram defines this type of content as any posts that create or submit “unwanted email, comments, likes, or other forms of commercial or harassing information.”

Violence and criminal activity

It is also very likely that users could create posts on Instagram’s platform to incite or promote violence and criminal activity. Since this could negatively affect the general public, users will want this type of content removed and monitored. Instagram highlights that in general, it does not allow illegal activity to be posted and promoted on its platform. This includes “praise of terrorism”, “organized hate crime or hate groups”, “sexual services”, and “selling firearms and drugs”.


With the rise of the age of the Internet, cyberbullying, the act of using the anonymity of the Internet to express hateful language to other users, has become a serious social issue. This is another form of hurtful content that users may potentially want removed from the app. Instagram claims that it will “remove credible threats of violence, hate speech, and the targeting of private individuals.” More specifically, this also includes any forms of attack and abuse based on racial identity, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and disease.

Self-injury and graphic content

Instagram assures users that it does not allow content relating to self-injury and graphic violence. Unless the content is attempting to raise awareness on self-injury issues, Instagram does not allow posts of self-injury which includes eating disorders. To keep the social media platform appropriate for all users and to prevent serious trauma from seeing graphic and violent content, any content that is seriously graphic and violent is prohibited in the app.

Instagram’s Copyright Policy

The platform advises to only share photos and videos that you have taken or have the right to share. Users own the content they post on Instagram and are responsible for any content they post on Instagram and the content is the responsibility of the person who originated it. Instagram acknowledges that copyright owners have certain rights under the law which include the right to stop others from copying or distributing copyrighted work. Instagram advises to not post anything copied or collected from the Internet to avoid any issues.

Instagram defines copyright infringement as any action where a person engages in making a copy of someone’s photo or video. Under Instagram’s terms of service and community guidelines, you can only post content to Instagram that doesn’t violate someone else’s intellectual property rights.

Instagram’s terms of service list infringing on someone else’s copyright can happen even if you take the following measures.

  • Bought or downloaded the content
  • Recorded the content onto your own recording device
  • Gave credit to the copyright owner
  • Included a disclaimer that you didn’t intend to infringe copyright
  • Modified the work or added own original material to it
  • Found the content available on the internet
  • Saw that others posted the same content as well
  • Think that the use is a fair use

If a user receives permission from a copyrights owner or obtains a license, you may be able to use someone else’s content.

Fair Use

The biggest exception to copyright is when a work falls under “fair use.”

The United States follows the “fair use” doctrine, while other countries, including those in the European Union, provide other exceptions or limitations to copyright.

Copyrighted work falls under fair use if:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The use transforms or changes the original work by adding new meaning, context, or expression.
  • Uses a fashion photograph to discuss the amount of photo editing used in the photograph
  • It is a parody that imitates a work in a way that criticizes or comments on the original.

Instagram Copyright Issues

  • Instagram Lives

An update to Instagram allowed a notification to appear that tells users they’re using unlicensed art in ways that violate its rules. This was designed to help users avoid Instagram muting or blocking content posted by users that occurs if a piece of licensed music plays for too long over or in the background of a live video. The notification appears in live broadcasts to give users time to remove the audio so they can avoid having the stream disrupted or taken down. Instagram posted in a blog post that “These notifications are intended to alert you when our systems detect that your broadcast or uploaded video may include music in a way that doesn’t adhere to our licensing agreements. Updates include making notifications clearer and surfacing notifications earlier to live broadcasters, to give people time to adjust their streams and avoid interruptions if we detect they may be approaching our limitations.”

  • Instagram Embedding Rules

A court ruled users can embed photos on the platform without breaking copyright law. Stephanie Sinclair sued the parent company of the site “Mashable” for a 2016, post on the website about female photographers, which included Sinclair and embedded an image from her Instagram feed. Sinclair sued the site for using Instagram embedding as a workaround after previously failing to license the image directly, .

A judge noted that Instagram reserves a “fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable” right to photos on its service. If a photo is posted publicly, it also offers embedding as an option that grants a sublicense to display the picture. The Judge ruled that because  “the user who initially uploaded the content has already granted Instagram the authority to sublicense the use of ‘public’ content to users who share it”.

After the case, Instagram updated its copyright page to state that users retain “the right to grant permission to use your copyrighted work, as well as the right to prevent other people from using your copyrighted work without permission,” with no mention of exceptions for the embedded content. And the site forbids embedding content in a way that “violates any rights of any person,” including “intellectual property rights.”

  • Fair Use Issues

The agency, Xclusive-Lee, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against actress GiGi Hadid that claimed Hadid posted one of their images taken by paparazzi to her Instagram and it claims this violated the company’s copyright. Hadid’s legal team argued that her posting the image constituted fair use because she contributed to the photo in the form of a smile and her outfit and that she isn’t making money off her Instagram post or depriving Exclusive of profits stating  “Ms. Hadid merely reposted the photograph to her Instagram page and made no effort to commercially exploit it.

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