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This Artist Is Claiming Snapchat Stole Her Original Design

We spoke to Sarah M. Lyons about the Snapchat filter that looks suspiciously like her own original design

Snapchat filter copyright

California-based illustrator and designer Sara M. Lyons woke up to “a dozen DMs on Instagram” Wednesday morning, as her followers sent screenshot after screenshot of a Snapchat filter that looked a heck of a lot like one of her original designs.

As Lyons points out in her Twitter thread, the Snapchat filter looks like a horizontally flipped version of her own art, down to the number of painted nails visible on each hand. Her “Whatever Forever” slogan has been replaced with “Whatever Wednesday.”

“It’s a ‘not this again’ feeling,” Lyons tells us over email. “It can be a major emotional and financial drain to go after big companies when this happens, so I always have to decide whether or not it’ll even be worth it for me to pursue things legally. Sometimes it costs me more money than I could hope to recoup, which is really frustrating as an independent artist and informs a lot of my decision making.”

Lyons says this is not the first time her creative property has been stolen. “It’s a pretty constant occurrence for me and has been for over four years. I can’t call out many brands by name because of settlements or ongoing litigation, but even the most rudimentary search of the internet for any of my most recognizable illustrations will turn up loads of counterfeit products.”

By 5 p.m. EST on Wednesday, May 31, the filter was no longer available. “I hope that Snapchat will hold themselves accountable,” she continues. “It’s frustrating that it’s the responsibility of artists to defend their intellectual property, instead of it being the responsibility of corporations to respect the intellectual property of artists. It seems like an unfair power imbalance that is tipped in favour of big companies with a lot of money. It would be really nice if Snapchat would take responsibility for this mistake.”

Of course, the story of large companies being accused of stealing from small artists is not a new one. Snapchat itself has been in hot water a few times in past years, as makeup artists opened up the app to see their original designs ripped from Instagram and turned into a Snapchat lens or sticker without permission. In these cases, the original artists were also confident that their art had been traced by a Snapchat employee.

Following a slew of allegations of plagiarism in June 2016, Snapchat put out a statement: “The creative process sometimes involves inspiration, but it should never result in copying. We have already implemented additional layers of review for all designs. Copying other artists isn’t something we will tolerate, and we’re taking appropriate action internally with those involved.

At the time of publication, Lyons has spoken to a representative from Snapchat over the phone and they were working to resolve the situation.

Lyons designed her “Whatever Forever” piece more than four years ago, when she was actively using art as an outlet while she struggled with mental health.

“I was struggling with depression and used my illustrations as one of my only outlets when I drew ‘Whatever Forever’ in February 2013,” she explains. “A lot of my work at that time used light-hearted-looking motifs to express a deeper sense of apathy. It’s been interesting seeing all the different ways that the image and its [original message] have been interpreted over the years. I’m really open to all of them, as long as no one is stealing from me!”

Still, ongoing plights of plagiarism aren’t enough to dissuade Lyons from continuing to produce original art. “This is all I can do,” she jokes. “I don’t have another choice. [But] does [plagiarism] make me leery about sharing my illustrations on the internet? Absolutely. I’m nowhere close to as open about my work anymore as I was when I was starting out.”

And Lyons doesn’t want instances like these to discourage other up-and-coming artists from creating their own original content. “There’s no use worrying about it until it happens—I don’t think this or anything should dissuade anyone from making what they love,” she says. “Hopefully as cases like this receive more attention, it’ll encourage more large companies to work with indie artists directly, fostering a community and building artists up, which is how it should be.”

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