Copyright & Censorship on Instagram: How Marie Claire Stole My Photo

Yesterday I found out that one of my photos was misused, stolen if you ask me, by a major international company. Sadly this type of thing is so common that it’s almost not worth writing about. However, it’s what happened during my quest to call-out the company that really captured my attention.

I was contacted by a friend who asked me if I’d seen that Marie Claire posted my photo to their Instagram feed. I knew nothing about it, so I went to Instagram to see.

I soon discovered that my photo had been picked up by a few other Instagram accounts before Marie Claire, the main one being Bumble and bumble, a company owned by Estée Lauder. The other accounts, including Bumble and bumble, at least had the decency and respect to credit me as well as the hair stylist when reusing my photo. Sadly the model wasn’t credited, which upset me quite a bit.

Allow me to explain my anger.

First of all, the concept and creation of the photograph was done by the model (@objectivist87) and myself (@jamesjollay). She and I collaborated and tossed around ideas for quite a while trying to figure out the best way to photograph her underlights.

In fact, conceptually speaking, she had most of the ideas while I handled the photography end of things; i.e. the lighting, the composition, etc.

The model and I spent a lot of time and effort to make an interesting series of photographs. When we finished creating the photographs, the model wanted to post them to her Facebook page, at which point she decided to credit myself and the hair stylist.

Now, I don’t want to belittle the hair stylist and I completely acknowledge her talent with regards to underlighting the model’s hair; however, the hair stylist was in no way involved in the creation of these photographs.

After the hair stylist saw the photos, she asked if she could have copies to share on her social media accounts. I told her she could.

Of course I knew that there was the potential for the photos to be shared without my permission, but I did not expect a large international company to share my photograph without permission and without credit. In fact, not only did Marie Claire fail to credit me, they actually took the time to remove my credit from the source photo that Bumble and bumble shared.

Bumble and Bumble (and others) using my photo, but with credit.

Technically speaking, Marie Claire didn’t use the photo that Bumble and bumble used, because if you look at the photo Bumble and bumble posted you can see that the colors are way more saturated than my original photo. However, Marie Claire does follow Bumble and bumble on Instagram and had no problem giving them credit.

So What, They Just Reposted Your Photo. It’s Not Like They Made Money From It.

Why do companies use Instagram? Marketing. What do they gain from marketing? Potential revenue from sales of products and/or services. Put simply: companies use Instagram to make money.

Companies use Instagram and other social media services to gain followers and ultimately sell their product or service. Typically a company will pay a photographer or a team of marketing professionals to create something they can publish. This is good because people get paid for their ideas, and hard work. It provides job opportunities. Hell, it even drives the national and global economy.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Either way, the people creating marketing materials should be paid.

But why pay someone when companies can freely harvest other people’s hard work for their marketing needs? I mean, do you want to pay for something when you can get it for free? It turns out that Instagram is a great place for companies of all sizes to freely harvest other people’s hard work. Most people are just happy to have their 15 minutes of fame.

Yeah, Yeah, So What. You Got All Kinds of Exposure.

Okay, so lets talk about exposure. How much exposure do you think I received from Marie Claire’s 989,000 followers? Well, I didn’t receive any exposure because I wasn’t credited.

At the time of posting there are 3,329 likes. And I would assume a lot more than 3,329 people saw the photo given the number of followers Marie Claire has. Had I been credited, those likes and views could have been potential clients for me. But I’m not a big fan of exposure anyway. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

What’s Next?

So now what? What is the little guy supposed to do? Hire a lawyer? How much time and money will that cost them? Here’s an idea, how about trying to call-out the bad guy that stole the photo? Well that sounds like a decent idea for now. And that’s what I decided to do.

Shame On Instagram or Instagram’s Censorship Tools

Of course I was mad but instead of leaving an angry comment, I decided to try and give credit where credit was due and at the same time call-out Marie Claire. This is when I was completely dumbfounded.

It turns out that Instagram has some kind of word filter that it uses to automatically block comments. To test this theory, I posted the same exact comment to a friend’s account to see if it would be blocked. It wasn’t.

I can only assume that Instagram provides certain accounts tools to automatically censor comments. But what part of my comment triggered it to automatically be blocked? I didn’t write anything obscene, offensive, or threatening. Did Marie Claire set up a filter to automatically block any comments critical of them? Who knows.

From my perspective, it seems that Instagram works hard to protect the big companies while using the little guys, companies or not, as the product. The crop from which the big companies can harvest whatever they desire in order to generate more revenue for themselves.


I’m going to state the obvious and say this is ridiculous. I think everyone that uses Instagram, especially professional photographers or other creative professionals, should be aware of this. And even if you’re not a professional, you should never let your hard work be used for profit without real compensation.

I’m talking about money or something of real value. Exposure is worthless. Remember, you can’t buy food with exposure and you can’t save your exposure to buy a house.

About the author: James Jollay is a Trappe, Pennsylvania-based commercial photographer providing businesses with high quality images for websites, advertising, social media, and more. To see more of his work, visit his website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.