Instagram has evolved from a mere personal space for posting pictures and videos into a massive platform that connects over 1.3 billion monthly active users. Over the past five to ten years, many of these users have found ways to capitalize on the outreach that Instagram affords by starting businesses through the site itself. From fashion bloggers and social media influencers to aspiring entrepreneurs, Instagram has created a unique nesting ground of profitable opportunities for individuals and businesses alike. As with any other medium, though, businesses should be aware of some potential legal risks involved with engaging in a for-profit trade on Instagram.
If you start a business on Instagram and your account gains traction, you might decide to sell advertisement space, products and services or host paid giveaways through your posts. Regardless of how you choose to use your account, you should begin your business plan with the formation of a legal entity, such as a corporation or a Limited Liability Company (LLC). The reason is very simple: a legal entity helps to limit your personal liability (hence the name) and protect your personal assets in the event a legal dispute arises stemming from the operation of your business.
Consider this scenario: you, through your legal entity, enter into a business agreement with another party. One of you breaches the agreement and the other pursues legal action. With such an entity in place, judgment creditors could potentially only go after the assets of the entity to satisfy a judgment from the suit. Alternatively, if the same events occurred, but you signed the agreement as yourself, and not as a properly formed and run entity, creditors could possibly use your personal assets to satisfy the same judgment.
Furthermore, it’s equally important to trademark your logo or slogan because they distinguish you and could be the first aspect of your brand that Instagram users associate with your account.
You might not be an influencer or a celebrity, but you should still be careful about advertising on your Instagram page, especially if you are receiving compensation. Instagram has taken the problem of deceptive advertising on its platform very seriously after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) required disclosure whenever a Material Connection with another individual or company exists. In order to comply with the guidelines issued by the FTC, you should always use #sponsored or #paid or make your own #XYZpartnership hashtag for your sponsored Instagram posts, ideally in your caption. Hiding those hashtags in the comment section will most likely cause you legal repercussions since it does not immediately put other users on notice. If you don’t really like the idea of using a hashtag, the only other alternative to meet the requirement for clear and conspicuous disclosure is to write a very clear caption in your post, where you disclose your partnership to other users. Simply tagging another individual, company or product is not enough and might get you in trouble as well.
Generally, someone may be in violation of U.S. copyright laws when they use another’s photos or videos without receiving prior written consent. The best practice to avoid copyright infringement claims against you is to ask permission directly from the copyright owner, either through direct message or in the comment section.
However, you’re unlikely to get an answer from any celebrities or big Instagram accounts. In that case, Instagram allows you to use someone else’s content under the condition that you properly give credit to the account or use apps designed for reposting photos and videos that automatically gives credit to the original copyright owner, such as Regram.
Instagram bots allow a profile to like, comment and follow other Instagram accounts through automation. Instagram has taken a hard line to automation and has banned the use of creating accounts or collecting information through automation without the platform’s express consent.
If you use or are planning to use bots, be mindful that you’re violating an agreement between you and Instagram. Whether you have a thousand or a million followers, you can immediately lose your business and all the hard work you put in if Instagram detects your use of bots.
The internet is also full of stories about accounts being permanently removed for no legitimate reason. Even worse, your account might get hacked or temporarily disappear due to a “bug,” something that can be analogized to a computer virus. Therefore, your agreements with other individuals or companies need to protect you if your account is deleted beyond your control.
It is helpful to hire the right lawyer who will insert language in your agreements that can maximize your protection and help you avoid expensive and time-consuming legal disputes in the future.
Instagram gives entrepreneurs the chance to build and grow their businesses online in an organic way. However, like other business owners, those who grow their businesses on Instagram need to find ways to protect their businesses from legal liability. Consulting an experienced attorney can help you grow and protect your business on Instagram.