Instagram has been hit with what appears to be its first class action lawsuit owing to the photo sharing app’s flip-flop over its Terms of Services in the past couple of weeks.

Reuters has reported that a California Instagram user slapped a breach of contract and other claims against Instagram. The lawsuit came in reply to the recent changes in Instagram’s Terms of Services (ToS) and Privacy Policy that made it look like Instagram owned user-generated images and had the rights to sell them or use them in advertisements as and when they pleased.

The company, which was bought over by Facebook earlier this year, unsurprisingly faced a barrage of complaints from users and severe backlash from critics. While most users decided to stop using their accounts, nature magazine National Geographic too pulled the plug on its Instagram account, refusing to post any more images till the photo sharing website changed its ToS.

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Instagram in legal hot waters

Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, issued a hurried apology saying that the language in the ToS was what was causing the confusion. He asserted that Instagram never has and never will own user-generated images. Systrom also clarified that Instagram was indeed trying to find a model through which they could monetise the service, but would not sell user images.

Systrom explained that if a business wanted to gain more followers, in order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. He added that your profile image might show up if you’re following the business. He also assured that photos and profiles that were set to private could only be accessed by users pre-approved by the owner of the profile.

Despite backpedalling from the new ToS and reverting to the ones in use since 2010, Instagram kept language that gave it the ability to place ads in conjunction with user content, and saying “that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.” It also kept the mandatory arbitration clause, forcing users to waive their rights to participate in a class action lawsuit except under very limited circumstances. The current terms of service, in effect through mid-January, contain no such liability shield.  

The lawsuit that was filed by a San Diego based law firm Finkelstein & Krinsk said that customers who do not agree with Instagram’s services and cancel their profiles still forfeit rights to photos they had previously shared on the service.

In short, Instagram declares that 'possession is nine-tenths of the law and if you don't like it, you can't stop us,” says the lawsuit.

Instagram’s parent company Facebook has had a look at the lawsuit already. “We believe this complaint is without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an e-mail to Reuters.

“The civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, is Lucy Funes, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated vs. Instagram Inc., 12-cv-6482,” reports Reuters.

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