*OH SNAP*: Is Snapchat Stealing Filters?

2-snapcode-to-special-discover-channel

By: Chresanthe Staurulakis

In today’s world, phones are used more for “Snapchatting” than for making phone calls, and the craze only grows with every new feature Snapchat offers its users. In 2015, Snapchat released the “Lenses” feature, which is known by most as “filters.”[1] Its filters allow Snapchat users to “superimpose masks and characters” over their faces to transform their snaps into something more exciting.[2] There are filters that are unique to certain cities and holidays, and users can even pay a small fee to design their own filter for a special occasion. The feature has become wildly popular and new filter options are available every day.[3] However, a filter that may seem “new” to one user may appear all too familiar to another.

Since these filters have been released, multiple makeup artists have come forward and accused Snapchat of stealing their work to create its new filters.[4] Many of these artists rely on social media accounts to become noticed, land jobs and build their brands.[5] Some have thousands, even millions, of followers on their various Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.[6] As a result, they are constantly updating their accounts to showcase their latest artwork and designs.

Argenis Pinal, Alexander Khoklov and Mykie are makeup artists who have all developed a cult following on social media due to their unique designs.[7] One day, while scrolling through Snapchat, Pinal noticed that the new “joker” filter looked similar to a design he had recently posted on his Instagram account.[8] Upon noticing the similarities, he posted his original work next to the filter on his Instagram account.[9] The filter was taken down later that evening.[10]

Khoklov also accused Snapchat of taking a geometric design he had created for the cover of Scientific American Mind in 2014 and using it as a filter without his permission.[11] Finally, Mykie had the same issue when she came across a watercolor filter that strongly resembled a look she had created and posted on her Instagram.[12] After she filed a report through Snapchat, the app took the filter down but claimed that “they did not believe the filter infringed on her copyright.” [13] This raises the issue of what protection should an artist expect to have when he or she releases artwork through social media accounts.

Original artistic works are protected by copyright laws.[14] However, for makeup artists like Pinal, Khoklov and Mykie, protecting makeup design and body art design can oftentimes          seem more difficult than protecting paintings or literary works.[15] Makeup design is not formally listed as one of the mediums eligible for copyright.[16] Nevertheless, courts have previously ruled that makeup design can be copyrighted. In Carell v. Shubert Organization Inc., the court held that the makeup artist’s designs for the cast of the Broadway show Cats was protected under copyright law.[17] The band Kiss obtained a federal trademark registration for its signature face paint look in 1978.[18] In addition, one can file for a copyright up to three months after creating a design.[19] Unfortunately, filing for a copyright takes a lot more effort, time and money than most burgeoning artists can afford.[20] Therefore, most of the artwork uploaded on social media accounts is unprotected and Snapchat knows it.[21]

Even more disconcerting, Snapchat is no stranger to giving credit where credit is due. The app often works with large corporations to create filters that advertise various brands. For example, during the 2016 Super Bowl, Snapchat released a specific Gatorade filter.[22] This filter earned 160 million impressions and every user knew Gatorade was the brand behind the filter.[23] Artists are missing out on what could be a great opportunity to further their careers and make their brands known.[24]

It is all too easy to upload one’s latest painting, drawing or design onto one’s Instagram, Youtube, or Twitter account for millions to see. Social media can be a vital resource for up-and-coming artists. However, it is important to remember that this free publicity in fact does come at a price. Constantly posting one’s latest artistic achievements leaves one at risk for the public to see and potentially take without permission. For many, there are few options for recourse when something like this occurs. Thus, it is important that artists be mindful of this issue when posting original works of art onto social media.

 

[1]. See Molly McHugh, Swiped: Is Snapchat stealing filters from makeup artists?, The Ringer (June 16, 2016), https://theringer.com/snapchat-stealing-filters-ae39a061c274#.gpiytin2b.

[2]. See Ian Kar, Copycat: Artists are accusing Snapchat of stealing their work for its hugely popular filters, Quartz (June 16, 2016), http://qz.com/709638/artists-are-accusing-snapchat-of-stealing-their-work-for-its-hugely-popular-filters/.

[3]. See McHugh, supra note 1.

[4]. See Andrea Navarro, Snapchat Just Admitted Something Major About Their Filters, Teen Vogue (June 17, 2016), http://www.teenvogue.com/story/snapchat-copying-makeup-artists-filters.

[5]. See McHugh, supra note 1.

[6]. See id.

[7]. See id.

[8]. See id.

[9]. See id.

[10]. See id.

[11]. See Trace William Cowen, Snapchat Is Being Accused of Stealing Filter Ideas From Makeup Artists, Complex (June 21, 2016), http://www.complex.com/life/2016/06/snapchat-accused-stealing-filter-ideas-makeup-artists.

 

[12]. See Navarro, supra note 4.

[13]. See McHugh, supra note 1.

[14]. See U.S. Copyright Off., Library of Congress, Copyright Basics 1 (2012).

[15]. . See McHugh, supra note 1.

[16]. See 17 U.S.C. § 102 (2016).

[17]. See Carell v. Schubert Org., Inc., 104 F. Supp. 2d 236, 247 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

[18]. See McHugh, supra note 1.

[19]. See id.

[20]. See id.

[21]. See id.

[22]. See Kar, supra note 2.

[23]. See id.

[24]. See id.

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