Court Rules Photographer Gave Up Exclusive Copyright Licensing Rights by Posting to Instagram.

April 16, 2020
Post by Brandon W. Clark


In a controversial opinion, a New York federal court judge recently ruled that a professional photographer gave up exclusive licensing rights by posting a photo on Instagram.

The photographer, Stephanie Sinclair, posted a photo on the popular social media site, Instagram. Later, the news site Mashable contacted Sinclair requesting to use the photo for a story on female photographers (Article). Mashable offered Sinclair $50 to use the photo and she declined. Instead of using the photo directly, Mashable embedded the Instagram post in the article. Sinclair then filed suit for copyright infringement.

Instagram’s Terms of Use state that, by posting content to Instagram, the user “grant[s] to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to the Content that you post on or through [Instagram], subject to [Instagram’s] Privacy Policy.” Thus, because Sinclair uploaded the Photograph to Instagram and designated it as “public,” she agreed to allow Mashable, as Instagram’s sublicensee, to embed the photo in its website.

The Court found that Mashable used Sinclair’s photograph pursuant to a valid sublicense from Instagram and dismissed the Complaint for failing to state a valid copyright infringement claim.

It’s important to note that this federal district court opinion is not binding law of the U.S., this decision, and likely appeals, will potentially have significant ramifications to the intersection of copyright law and social media.

Brandon W. Clark is the Chair of the Copyright, Entertainment & Media Law Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information, please visit or contact Brandon directly via email at


Post Categories

Comments (0)
Post a Comment

Captcha Image
Return to the Filewrapper Blog

Search Posts


The attorneys of McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. designed this blog as an informational and educational resource about intellectual property law for our clients, other attorneys, and the public as a whole. Our goal is to provide cutting-edge information about recent developments in intellectual property law, including relevant case law updates, proposed legislation, and intellectual property law in the news.


McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. provides this blog for general informational purposes only. By using this blog, you agree that the information on this blog does not constitute legal or other professional advice and no attorney-client or other relationship is created between you and McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. Do not consider this blog to be a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified, licensed attorney. While we try to revise this blog on a regular basis, it may not reflect the most current legal developments. We consciously refrain from expressing opinions on this blog and instead, offer it as a form of information and education, however if there appears an expression of opinion, realize that those views are indicative of the individual and not of the firm as a whole.

Connect with MVS

Enter your name and email address to recieve the latest news and updates from us and our attorneys.

Subscribe to: MVS Newsletter

Subscribe to: Filewrapper® Blog Updates

  I have read and agree to the terms and conditions of McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C.