Sara M. Lyons, a California-based illustrator and designer, has accused Snapchat of ripping off her design for one of its filters. The design in question, a pair of hands making the “whatever” sign, was a filter available to some users last night and this morning.
Lyons points out on Twitter that although her original design is fairly simple, the finger placement in Snapchat’s filter (above) and her own illustration (below) is very similar. Lyons says Snapchat’s filter looks like a traced and flipped version of her illustration.
“I had about a dozen DMs about it on my Instagram when I woke up this morning,” Lyons told The Verge via email. “I might not have noticed it on my own because I don't use Snapchat every day, but I'm fortunate to have lots of friends and followers who recognize my work.”
Lyons says she has officially registered the design with the US Copyright Office; she also sells pins of it in her online store.
This is not the first time Snapchat has been accused of stealing the work of indie artists. In 2016, The Ringer’s Molly McHugh reported that Snapchat was apparently cribbing filter ideas from makeup artists and other graphic artists. That same year, a colorful geometric face filter appeared to heavily borrow from the work of Russian artist Alexander Khokhlov. Snapchat eventually removed the filter, calling it an “embarrassing mistake.”
In the Ringer report, McHugh notes that it would be difficult to argue a court case against Snapchat for copyright infringement because it’s tough to “quantify the value of a filter.” On Twitter, Lyons has asked Snapchat to get in touch with her personally.
“It'd be amazing if Snapchat reached out directly to make things right,” Lyons said. “However, my copyright has been infringed on this piece and others countless times since 2013, and in my experience it's pretty rare that brands do right by artists in cases like these. I like Snapchat, so hopefully they'll be one of the exceptions to the rule.”
When reached for comment, a Snapchat spokesperson provided the following statement to The Verge: “We became aware of similarities between a new Snapchat Geofilter and one of Ms. Lyons' designs early today. While there are important differences between the two designs, out of respect for Ms. Lyons we decided to disable the filter immediately while we investigated. It was removed from Snapchat this morning.”
Update 6:28PM ET: Updated to add Snapchat’s statement.