Snapchat Screenshots | Copyright Infringement

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Snapchat is an image messaging and multimedia mobile application launched in 2011. It allows users to add captions drawings and filters to their photos and videos.

Snapchat is particularly well known for its short-lived and self-deleting image sharing. Pictures and videos can be sent to other Snapchat users with a maximum time limit of 10 seconds before they expire.

Although there is obvious scope for explicit shenanigans, Snapchat is immensely appealing because in an online world, youthful indiscretions may become an indelible blot on one’s copybook.  The temporary nature of Snapchat was presented by Snapchat founders as a solution to stresses caused by the longevity of personal information on social media, evidenced by “emergency detagging of Facebook photos before job interviews and photoshopping blemishes out of candid shots before they hit the internet” ( refer LET’S CHAT 2012 )

The Snapchat Terms of Service (refer TERMS OF SERVICE ) deal with several intellectual property issues.

Snapchat users retain copyright ownership in content they post (assuming the user owns copyright in the content in the first place).  However, the Terms of Service do grant Snapchat a “worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, create derivative works from, publicly perform, broadcast, distribute, syndicate, promote, exhibit, and publicly display” any content users upload to the app, “in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)”.

The Terms of Service provide that Snapchat “cannot—and do not—take responsibility for any content that others provide through the Services.”

The Terms prohibit users from uploading, posting, sending, or storing content that violates or infringes someone else’s rights of publicity, privacy, copyright, trade mark, or other intellectual-property right.

Unless permission is obtained from the copyright owner, a screenshot of a Snapchat likely infringes copyright.

Specifically in relation to copyright, the Terms provide:

Snap Inc. honors the requirements set forth in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We therefore take reasonable steps to expeditiously remove from our Services any infringing material that we become aware of. And if Snap Inc. becomes aware that one of its users has repeatedly infringed copyrights, we will take reasonable steps within our power to terminate the user’s account.

The very nature of self-destructing ephemeral messaging means that copyright concerns are likely neglible at least by virtue of the fact that they are unlikely to be detected.

That is the position in theory.  However, despite the 10 second time limit, recipients of content are able to take a screenshot using their mobile to retain their own permanent copy.

These screenshots do not violate Snapchat’s Terms of Service.  However, on basic copyright principles, any such snapshot, without permission of the owner, would infringe copyright in the content.  Given that the self-destructing messages are the primary feature of Snapchat, it is difficult to conceive that consent from the copyright owner to another user to create the snapshot could be implied.

Therefore, unless permission is obtained from the copyright owner, a screenshot of a Snapchat likely infringes copyright.  Although it may seem remote for the copyright owner to initiate a claim in relation to a screenshot, much might depend on the extent to which the image is subsequently published and damage caused to the copyright owner.  We all now understand that a single email, SMS, online post Tweet or other communication can have devastating consequences.  It is preferable and significantly safer to respect the ephemeral spirit in which the content was posted and copyright.

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