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Groupon Facing Lawsuit for Using Instagram Photos Without Permission

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One of the cardinal rules of the internet is that you can do pretty much whatever you want with the content, so long as you don't take credit for it or try and use it to make money. It's a rule that seems to be routinely conveniently forgotten, in many cases by people who should definitely know better.

Though their success and revenue has fluctuated, Groupon are hugely popular. Their e-commerce service operates in more than 40 countries, offering the best deals for just about anything you can think of. Their reputation precedes them at this stage, so it's somewhat baffling that they would ever even consider using disingenuous tactics in their advertising.

Currently, they are being sued in Illinois circuit court by Christine Dancel, who discovered that a picture of her at a restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills was being used to advertise a Groupon deal for the establishment. The image had been uploaded to her Instagram during the summer, and she was never even notified that it was being used, much less asked for permission.

If this were an isolated incident, there might be a little more wiggle room, but this is supposedly one of over 1000 similar cases where Groupon has simply lifted a photo from Instagram and used it to advertise a deal on their site, devoid of any credit or reference. Not only is this a flagrant violation of Instagram's terms of use, but it's also utterly illegal under Illinois state law, which protects unauthorised use of a person's name, likeness or image.

What Groupon have effectively done here, is taken publically available, but personal material which likely had nothing to do with them, and presented it as if it was promotional material from the beginning. Dancel was made to look as if she was in the restaurant because she snapped up a Groupon deal, and regardless of whether or not she did, it's misrepresentation.

On the face of it, this looks like a prime example of what happens when a company utterly fails to understand how to use social media for promotion. If Groupon had encouraged their customers to tag themselves in photos during the various outings purchased on the site, whilst also stipulating that the images might be used for promotion, they could have easily kick-started a customer generated promotional campaign. Instead, they're facing what could end up being a hailstorm of legal turmoil, threatening to irreparably damage their repution in their home state, seemingly because they were too unimaginative to take that approach, and too lazy to organise their own photo shoots.

In many cases, content theft is a result of misunderstanding of the law, or simply being convinced that the original owner of the content would never find out, the internet is a big place, after all. Heaven forbid that a Chicago resident who once posted an image of herself at a restaurant might then look that same place up to see if there was a decent group deal.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Groupon Facing Lawsuit for Using Instagram Photos Without Permission Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 Rating: 5

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