Is A Screenshot Copyright Protected?

Written by Éamon Chawke | March 28, 2016


Snapchat is a mobile messaging application which has become hugely popular in a relatively short space of time. It is used to share photos, videos, text and drawings. One of the most distinctive features of the application is that any image or footage sent via Snapchat automatically deletes after a few seconds of being viewed Chand by the recipient. However, Snapchat users who wish to retain images received via Snapchat have the ability to do so by screenshotting the images before they are automatically deleted.

Notwithstanding this loophole, as Ed Vaizey, the Government’s culture minister, has recently pointed out, taking a screenshot of an image received via Snapchat amounts to copyright infringement. Under UK copyright law, copyright automatically vests in the creator of a creative work (the photographer, in the case of a photograph, or the artist, in the case of a drawing or other artistic work). In other words, the person who sends the image via Snapchat is normally the owner of the copyright in that image.

Legal rights associated with copyright

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that affords the owner a number of economic and moral rights (including the exclusive right to reproduce the creative work protected by copyright and the exclusive right to publish the creative work protected by copyright). If the recipient of an image sent via Snapchat is screenshotted without the consent of the sender (i.e. the owner of the copyright in that image), he or she is infringing the sender’s exclusive right to reproduce the image. Similarly, if the recipient of that image then posts the image on Twitter or Facebook (for example) without the consent of the sender, he or she is infringing the sender’s exclusive right to publish the image.

Suing for copyright infringement

The potential civil implications are that the owner of the copyright in the creative work (e.g. the image) may sue the infringer, and may seek an injunction (i.e. a court order) preventing the continued reproduction or publication of the creative work and/or damages (i.e. compensation in the form of money). In order to successfully claim damages, the copyright owner would normally have to prove that he or she suffered loss or damage attributable to the infringement. The potential criminal implications are that the infringer may be liable to a potential fine of up to £50,000 and a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years.

Briffa comment

The increase in the use of smartphones and other mobile devices incorporating a camera, coupled with the increase in the number of mobile applications like Snapchat (and other social media platforms) accessible through smartphones and other mobile devices, has made photographers and publishers of us all. It is important, therefore, for everyday users to recognise that a simple act such as screenshotting an image, may potentially have significant legal implications.

Briffa advises on copyright protection and infringement and all other aspects of intellectual property law.

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