A major controversy that erupted in December over social media companies’ use of consumer photos has ended with a whimper, after a judge in San Francisco threw out a would-be class action against Instagram.
In a brief ruling issued on Friday, US District Judge William Alsup said Instagram user Lucy Rodriguez could not proceed with a class action over the photo-sharing company’s decision to change its terms of service.
The Instagram change set off a firestorm as users — including celebrities — accused the company of claiming ownership of their photos and vowed to quit the service. The fuss quickly fizzled and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, went ahead and updated its policy in January.
The judge’s decision did not address the source of the media controversy — user control over photos — but instead dismissed the case on procedural grounds. The decision also cited “numerous .. problems” with a rule that requires class action plaintiffs to suffer a common injury, and rejected a request to amend the claim.
As for the new Instagram terms of service, they do not (as some reported) give the company copyright in user photos. Instead, the changes appeared intended to make it easier to introduce Facebook-style advertising. (The Verge’s Nilay Patel has a good explanation of the controversy, which was widely misinterpreted).
The federal court opinion does not preclude the plaintiffs from trying again in state court but, as legal experts note, the case has always been a longshot because companies, provided they notify their users, are allowed to change their terms of service if they wish.
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