Did Instagram Cross the Line by Creating Virtually an Exact Copy of Snapchat’s “Stories”?
Earlier this month Instagram (owned by Facebook) released its new Instagram “Stories” feature, and it was almost exactly identical to Snapchat’s “Stories” feature. Even Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom in an interview with Tech Crunch soon after the release, admitted that it was a complete ripoff of Snapchat (http://tcrn.ch/2asib0M).
Now, we all remember in November of 2013 when Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel unbelievably rejected Facebook’s $3 billion offer to buy the company. At the time, I remember my colleagues saying that it was the dumbest decision of all time, and predicting that the CEO would never see that sort of valuation again.
Although Snapchat did struggle for some time afterwards, as fate would have it, it continued to grow in popularity and recent estimates puts its valuation around $19 billion.
It seems as though Facebook recently realized that it would start losing users to Snapchat, and so it finally took matters into its own hands, investing significant resources and simply recreating the famous “Stories” feature of Snapchat.
However, the question remains: did Instagram cross the line by creating virtually an exact copy of Snapchat’s “Stories”?
Based on my research, the answer is likely no. Assuming Instagram’s attorneys were smart enough to navigate around and not infringe on any of Snapchat’s patents, the question becomes whether there was any violation under trademark and copyright law.
“Stories” is too descriptive to qualify for trademark protection, and with regards to copyright Instagram seems to have sufficiently changed the interface of its “Stories” to avoid the charge of being an exact copy. The “idea” of stringing together a series of pictures or videos into a “story” would likely not receive protection under copyright law.
In short, even though something about it just doesn’t feel right morally, it seems as though Instagram will suffer no legal repercussions from its direct copy of Snapchat in this situation.