By Noah Holman

As we have all become far too familiar with, the world we are now living in is the world of Zoom. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has become the platform of choice for the closest simulation of in-person human connectivity that technology can offer. While there is no perfect substitute for real, live connection, the technology that drives our lives continues advancing with each passing day. One of the latest examples of this innovation is the integration of Zoom with technology we have been using for years: Snapchat filters and lenses.[1]

Because Zoom is commonly used for large group meetings or educational classrooms, there are usually too many people on any one Zoom call to all talk at once. Although Zoom does have features like the chat, raise hand, and thumbs up and wave reactions, these features can feel inefficient. Snapchat filters and lenses may very well be a solution to this, albeit certainly not without its own drawbacks.

While the filters simply put a “filter” over an image or video that alters its color, balance, brightness, etc. with no discrimination for the persons, shapes, or surroundings of that image or video,[2] the lenses actually track faces, body movements, and even surroundings such that the lenses will superimpose interactive graphics over people’s faces and surroundings.[3] The coolest and most notable feature is that these lenses react to the things they are tracking.[4] For example, certain lenses will react in a certain way when the face on screen raises its eyebrows or opens its mouth.[5] Others will react to movements of the whole body, like swinging arms.[6] And while Snapchat produces many filters and lenses of its own, the Lens Studio is what allows artists, creators, and everyday people everywhere to create their own.[7]

Through the “Snap Camera” app, Snap Inc. (inventor/owner of Snapchat) has allowed users to take these filters and lenses that were traditionally exclusive to the Snapchat app and utilize these features on platforms beyond Snapchat, such as Zoom.[8] Most people are sticking to the silly and entertaining uses of these features, like appearing on screen as a potato or a horse, but thanks to the innovation of Cameron Hunter, an engineer at Netflix, these Snapchat lenses can be used for a variety of practical purposes.[9]

Hunter utilized the Lens Studio to create a package of lenses designed for Zoom meetings.[10] This group of lenses adds comic book dialogue boxes to react to a number of different situations universally applicable to Zoom meetings, like saying “hello,” “yes” or “no,” a question, laughing, and goodbye.[11] There is even a feature that creates a “Be right back” speech bubble when the user steps out of frame.[12]

This is extremely valuable for providing instantaneous feedback, which allows for a professor or other speaker to continue talking without having to pause and allow others to talk, feel a need to constantly monitor the chat, or look for the tiny blue icons that indicate a raised hand. It also allows for those in the meeting to provide this feedback without having to unmute themselves.

If the next time you inevitably find yourself on a Zoom call, you decide you want to implement some of these features, it is relatively simple to do. First, you will need to download the Snap Camera app.[13] Next, you will need to open this app and select the filter you would like to use.[14] Once selected, open the Zoom meeting you wish to join and change the camera source Zoom will use.[15] To do this, find the video button on the bottom bar of the Zoom window, and click on the small arrow in the top right corner of that button.[16] Then, simply change the selected camera to “Snap Camera.”[17] You can change your filter at any time from the Snap Camera app, and from there, you should be good to go![18]

As for the legal implications of this, Snap, Inc. retains full ownership and control of the lenses that Hunter generated per its Snap Inc. Lens Studio Terms.[19] Not only does Snap own the lenses, but it was granted this ownership by mere virtue of Hunter using its Lens Studio software.[20] In other words, it pays no licensing fee to use the creative content that Hunter or other users like him create for Snapchat to disseminate to its millions of users.[21] Until someone challenges Snap Inc.’s severely restrictive terms agreements in court, Snap Inc. will continue profiting off of users’ creativity.

[1] See generally James Vincent, Add Comic Book Dialogue Boxes to Your Next Video Call with This Amazing Gesture-based Add-on, The Verge (Sept. 15, 2020, 11:26 AM), https://www.theverge.com/tldr/21437836/comic-book-dialogue-boxes-video-call-gesture-add-on-zoom-snap-camera-hangouts-google-meet.

[2] Cf. How to Use Photo Filters to Enhance Your Images, Canva, https://www.canva.com/learn/how-to-use-photo-filters-to-enhance-your-images/, (last visited Sep. 17, 2020).

[3] Cf. James Le, Snapchat’s Filters: How Computer Vision Recognizes Your Face, Medium (Jan. 28, 2018), https://medium.com/cracking-the-data-science-interview (scroll down through reverse chronological list of articles until you find Snapchat’s Filters: How Computer Vision Recognizes Your Face, dated Jan. 28, 2018).

[4] Cf. Id.

[5] Cf. Id.

[6] Cf. Lens Studio, Snap Inc., https://lensstudio.snapchat.com/, (last visited Sep. 17, 2020).

[7] See Id.

[8] Snap Camera, Snap Inc., https://snapcamera.snapchat.com/, (last visited Sep. 17, 2020).

[9] See Vincent, supra note 1.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Lance Whitney, How to Use Snapchat Filters on Zoom, PCMag (July 20, 2020), https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-use-snapchat-filters-on-zoom.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] See Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] See Snap Inc. Lens Studio Terms, Snap Inc., https://www.snap.com/en-US/terms/lens-studio-terms/, (last visited Sep. 17, 2020) (“You acknowledge and agree that Snap and our affiliates own all rights in the Lens product . . . .”).

[20] Id.

[21] Id. (“You agree that neither Snap nor our affiliates are under any obligation to pay you or any third party any consideration or compensation for the Assets or any use of the Assets.”).

Image Source: https://www.theverge.com/tldr/21437836/comic-book-dialogue-boxes-video-call-gesture-add-on-zoom-snap-camera-hangouts-google-meet

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