Snapchat, the fast-growing social media network/messaging app,
has spawned some controversy over how copyright law is
interpreted in the United Kingdom. In a recent Q&A session with members of Parliament,
the British government was asked whether it will
take steps to prevent Snapchat images from being made public
without the image owner's consent. In his written response
dated 24 March 2016, the Minister for Culture and the Digital
Economy, Ed Vaizey, answered that "[u]nder UK copyright law,
it would be unlawful for a Snapchat user to copy an image and make
it available to the public without the consent of the image owner.
The image owner would be able to sue anyone who does this for
This statement could be overly simplistic because it might imply
that any sharing of Snapchat images is unlawful.
Nonetheless, it highlights the potential copyright
implications of screenshotting and other image-sharing activities
on Snapchat and other social media Networks.
Snapchat users send their friends images and video clips that
disappear after a set amount of time. Once a file has been opened,
the recipient has a maximum time limit of ten seconds to view
its contents. If Snapchat can detect that a screenshot has
illicitly been taken, the company will try to inform the sender.
But there are ways to circumvent notification.
Sharing Screenshots of Images Is Not Necessarily Copyright
A suit for copyright infringement requires that the person
suing is the copyright owner. In the case of Snapchat sharing,
it is important to consider if the file is eligible for copyright
protection, and if so, whether any defenses apply – for
example, a recipent may be able to rely on implied consent to
copy the image. If, for example, a certain photograph is
eligible for copyright protection, the person who took the
photograph – who pressed the shutter – is the person
who owns the copyright in that photo. However, not every photograph
is eligible for copyright protection, at least under UK law.
The protection is based on the involvement of some kind of artistic
value. So, ?if a protected photo was shared in public (e.g. on the
Internet) without the consent of the copyright holder this would
indeed amount to copyright infringement. If a Snapchat user were to
send images of a sexual nature (comforted by their temporary
nature), the potential legal ramifications of screenshotting could
be even more serious and could involve criminal
The question whether the sender gives implied consent to publish
a photograph to other platforms just because she or he shared that
image on Snapchat will likely be answered in the
negative. As opposed to web pages, for example, a publication on
Snapchat does not result in a wide accessibility. After all, the
image is only on display for a (very) limited amount of time.
And the Concerns Apply to More Than Snapchat
It goes without saying that these copyright law principles do
not only apply to Snapchat but also to images that are (re)shared
over other social media networks/messaging apps such as Facebook
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This Mayer Brown article provides information and comments
on legal issues and developments of interest. The foregoing is not
a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and is not
intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific
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On 8 September 2016 (C-160/15), the CJEU ruled that the posting of a hyperlink to copyright-protected works located on another website does not constitute copyright infringement when the link poster does not seek financial gain.
The chapter on the UK summarises the IP court and litigation system in the UK, recent developments in relation to IP law and practice, the forms and availability of IP protection and trends and outlook in the IP sphere.
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