le scandale des clones d'Instagram

Instagram Clone Scandal: here’s how your photos end up on Pictame.

How did your photos posted on Instagram end up elsewhere? Although Instagram declares it does not monetize your pictures, it still allows commercial Instagram clones to proliferate. Those generate revenue using your images without sharing any of the profits.
IMATAG, the image surveillance specialist, followed photos posted on Instagram and investigated their unexpected destination.


Quick read:



When your photos posted on Instagram end up elsewhere…

Which one of us does not share our photographs on Instagram? What good is it to take pictures, if it is not to show our images to others? To which we can add the satisfying feeling of social recognition and see the likes and comments accumulate. The hope also that one of our images catches the attention of an art director of an advertising agency or a great brand and bingo: the 5-digit commission work! … Have we not all read stories that it happened to some previously unknown photographer, sometimes even to a lucky amateur? Moreover, we all know that Instagram does not sell nor exploit our photos to its advantage, don’t we? It is a platform for photography enthusiasts who can share their images and used to make us known by broadcasting our pictures on the web.


©Laurent Gudin
© Laurent Gudin

Laurent Gudin is not a beginner. He is an independent French professional photographer who was also the artistic director of major magazines and whose elegant and subtly illuminated portraits of world champions athletes, famous musicians or astonishing transexuals have, for many years, embellish the pages of luxurious weeklies, album covers, galleries, and museums. Laurent’s other passion is the country of Senegal. He published two photo books, which took years of work; the first on the traditional wrestling of Senegal, the second on the False Lions,  men who paint their faces and bodies in bright colors and whose costumes and headdresses likens them to wild beasts. They offer a fascinating street show for city dwellers and villagers who sometimes end up taking part in the festivities. Ever since November 2016, Laurent Gudin, motivated by the same expectations as all of us, regularly posts his photographs on Instagram.


Laurent is one of the hundred and thirty members of the PAJ trade union (Photographers, Authors, Journalists) that I stir since its creation in 2011. In 2016 PAJ, looking for a photograph protection solution, had identified the invisible and indelible watermark patented by IMATAG as the most powerful on the market. As soon as a file marked by IMATAG appears on the web, its author or rightful recipient receives an email providing the URL of the site and a thumbnail of the usage.

PAJ encouraged its members to take advantage of this innovative technology to protect their content.  Laurent did it immediately, shortly before opening his Instagram account. Thus all the images that he posted are marked and traceable.

© Laurent Gudin

Here is what the IMATAG notifications revealed: hundreds of photographs by Laurent Gudin, complete stories, sometimes in batches of hundreds of photos, appeared on sites copying Instagram by way of its API, in full breach of ALL its terms of use (GCU). Furthermore, it was possible to verify that some of these sites garner up to 3000 $ of advertising revenue per day. Not a penny is paid to the authors of the images whose images were stolen from Instagram. It is, therefore — in terms of European copyright laws —a blatant theft of photographs.


How did it happen? Who are those Instagram clones ?

The photos posted on Instagram are found on Pictame, surrounded by commercials…

These sites are called Deskgram, Pictame, Webstagram, Picoku, or Picdeer to name but a few. Worse, 62 users of Imatag’s invisible watermark have found 3,865 of their images on 32 clones of Instagram. Like Laurent Gudin, none of them were contacted for authorization.

Deskgram, Pictame, Webstagram, Picoku, Picdeer use the same typography and the same presentation as Instagram, presenting themselves as “Online Instagram Posts viewers” operating via Instagram’s API (Application Programming Interface). The API interface is a development tool which allows companies to work as a verified business account open on Instagram via a Facebook account.

The API business, or how to monetize free content

The legal terms set forth by Instagram describes in detail the permitted uses and must be read and approved by operators before the API account becomes operational. In particular, it states that:

– Each user of Instagram remains the owner of his images.
-You do not have the right to build a slideshow using photos of others.
-You should not select pictures using the API and then store them without the express permission of their authors.
-You do not have the right to use their images for advertising purposes or to monetize them.

All rules that these clone sites trample freely. Moreover, you will often find at the bottom of these websites mention that they use the Instagram API but are not related in any way to the platform. How does one explain that these sites claim to be using Instagram’s API without respecting its terms and conditions and that Instagram takes no action? There is little action to be done: these clone sites usually do not have a contact address or redirect you to Pictame – which seems to indicate that almost all clone sites belong to the same operator. Getting Pictame to have your photos removed takes weeks, even though they are using them illegally. Trying to reach Instagram yields generally no result.

In 2012 Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, said :

Instagram will work hard to defend the interests of its users and counter the abuse of other sites.

Today, this is clearly not the case.

IMATAG monitors images on the internet
IMATAG monitors images on the internet

How to know where your images are being used?

To protect your copyright

If your concern is to protect the copyright of your visual productions, many online solutions are available to you, often free and remunerated on a share of your earnings in the event of litigation: Pixtrakk and Picrights are some known examples. Note however that if the service is free, these platforms will assess your chances of winning a dispute before accepting (or refusing) to defend it.


To protect your business

If your company’s photos and videos are used for communication, sales or marketing, you will not have to defend the copyright of your images but rather to control their usage on the internet and to make sure that it is to the benefit of your business.

For this task, mainstream reverse image search engines like Google Image will not be of any help if you wish to automate your searches, avoid the manual control of false-positives, and get more than 300 matches per image, and have the results consolidated for your analytics. This service is offered to enterprises by experts in monitoring photos and videos like IMATAG. This solution is based on patented watermarking technology guaranteeing unrivaled reliability in terms of visual recognition. It is also equipped with robots crawling randomly the Internet and scrapping custom sources, according to their clients needs, to feed an index of more than 40 billion images.

Learn more, request a demo : clic here

Thierry Secretan, photographer, author, journalist.


Sources: Watch what you post: Instagram pictures are used