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Can you legally take a screen shot in Snapchat?

Snapchat is a fun way to share photos. Does saving them run afoul of Australian intellectual property law?

One of the hottest ways to connect with friends and family on social media is through Snapchat, a mobile app that lets users record and share pictures or short video clips.

While these snaps are automatically deleted, some people save them by taking a screen shot. This may be done without a second thought, but it could also be in violation of copyright law in Australia.

A snap is worth 1,000 words

Over 100 million people send and receive Snapchat snaps every day.

Snapchat is an incredibly popular social media platform; over 60 per cent of smartphone users from 13 to 34 years old in the US use it, with over 100 million people sending and receiving pictures and video content every day, according to the company's internal data.

One of the biggest factors in that popularity lies in the temporary nature of the app's content – snaps are automatically deleted after they've been viewed. The company policy also states that snaps are wiped from company servers after 30 days if they haven't been viewed.

While the app doesn't automatically save any content after a certain amount of time, recipients have the ability to record a snap by taking a screen shot with their phones or a picture with another camera.

Legal issues with screen shots

Snapchat's community guidelines mention that there's no company policy against taking screen shots. It does, however, note that users might object to other people saving their snaps. The guidelines mention that, because of this, users should be careful with whom they send pictures to.

Company policy aside, Snapchat users should think twice before taking a screen shot of a snap. According to Australian intellectual property laws, taking a screen shot could be considered unauthorised reproduction of someone else's protected work.

Think twice before saving that snap. It's against Australian copyright law.
Think twice before saving that snap. It's against Australian copyright law.

When it comes to photographs, ownership of a copyright lies with the photographer, according to the Australian Copyright Council (ACC). This means that the person – or animal, in one case – who took the photo owns the rights to it.

The ACC notes that posting a photo online does not necessarily change the copyright circumstances surrounding ownership, but that website terms and conditions may have an impact. According to Snapchat's terms and conditions, users still own the copyright to their photos they send through the app.

So, people who take a screen shot of a snap they receive are violating the rights of the person who sent it; they are reproducing someone else's protected work. Though people might not seek out Australian copyright lawyers over a saved snap, it may be best to just let those pictures disappear.