The Brave New World of Snapchat Shows: Whose Creations Are They Anyway?

An analysis of the Terms of Service and how they apply to the new Snapchat original content.
March 31, 2016

It’s about to get a lot harder to find people who watch the same shows. In recent months, Snapchat, the app formerly only known for disappearing photos, has become a host to a number of new video series.[1]  Time limited shows of different genres have taken hold throughout the app.[2]  As can be expected, several of the series have been the proprietary creations of the Snapchat company itself.[3] However, third-party content from both independent productions and major networks such as Comedy Central has also spread quickly.[4] That being said, original Snaps do not come for free.

In previous years, attorneys have discussed the content rights that creators potentially lose with posting their work, on video sites such as YouTube.[5] But what rights do creators lose and have, when dealing with Snapchat? The answer lies in the service’s public Terms of Service, which many artists should at least be aware of.

The most relevant section to those who develop their own content, is numbered “3” and helpfully called “Rights You Grant Us.”[6] The language of this section states:

“Many of our Services let you create, upload, post, send, receive, and store content. When you do that, you retain whatever ownership rights in that content you had to begin with. But you grant us a license to use that content. How broad that license is depends on which Services you use and the Settings you have selected.

For all Services other than Live, Local, and any other crowd-sourced Service, you grant Snapchat a worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute that content. This license is for the limited purpose of operating, developing, providing, promoting, and improving the Services and researching and developing new ones.

Because Live, Local, and any other crowd-sourced Services are inherently public and chronicle matters of public interest, the license you grant us for content submitted to those Services is broader. In addition to the rights you grant us in connection with other Services, you also grant us a perpetual license to create derivative works from, promote, exhibit, broadcast, syndicate, publicly perform, and publicly display content submitted to Live, Local, or any other crowd-sourced Services in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). To the extent it’s necessary, you also grant Snapchat and our business partners the unrestricted, worldwide, perpetual right and license to use your name, likeness, and voice solely in Live, Local, or other crowd-sourced content that you appear in, create, upload, post, or send. This means, among other things, that you will not be entitled to any compensation from Snapchat or our business partners if your name, likeness, or voice is conveyed through Live, Local, or other crowd-sourced Services.”[7]

As noted in the first paragraph above, Snapchat allows their users to maintain their “ownership rights” in any created content.[8] The independent creators can therefore still reproduce, distribute and create derivative works off of their Snap content (excluding Live, Local and other crowd-sourced services), if they so choose.[9] However, if only that was the end of it.

The second sentence of these Terms also notes that through its service, Snapchat acquires a certain “license” for this content.[10] This Snapchat “license” is quite interesting. In essence, it allows Snapchat the same ownership rights as those of the creator.[11] For no compensation other than their service, Snapchat can on their own reproduce, distribute, modify and adapt any content that they host.[12] Additionally, Snapchat owes no royalties to the creator if it does so.[13] The company can even sell and transfer this “license” to someone else, if they chose to.[14] This Snapchat license also applies worldwide and to any media format, as long as it is at least in support of a new company service.[15]

The impact of this is unparalleled. Do creators even realize how many of their rights they have already given away to Snapchat? What if tomorrow Snapchat decides to get a TV channel and use their content royalty-free? Is there anything that they could do? Big networks such as Comedy Central will likely have considered the issue and some could have even entered into a partnership with Snapchat. For sure, they have at least broached the topic. Now it’s important that the other creators do the same for ignorance is not always bliss.


[1] Matthew Ingram, TV Gets Small: Instagram and Snapchat Launch New Shows, Fortune (Feb. 2, 2016, 11:29 AM), http://fortune.com/2016/02/02/instagram-snapchat-tv/.

[2] Id.

[3] See Nellie Andreeva, Snapchat To Shut Down Snap Channel, Laying Off Team, Changing Content Plans, (Oct. 12, 2015, 7:16 PM), http://deadline.com/2015/10/snapchat-snap-channel-shut-down-layoffs-original-content-strategy-1201577855/.

[4] Jeremy Gerard, Comedy Central Renews Snapchat Series ‘Quickie With Nikki’ And Adds Nine New Series – Upfronts, Deadline ( Mar. 30, 2016, 10:00 AM), http://deadline.com/2016/03/comedy-central-snapchat-nine-new-series-upfronts-1201728453/.

[5] James C. Roberts III, Ask the Attorney: Videos & YouTube: Who Owns Them?, tubefilter, (Aug. 27, 2010), http://www.tubefilter.com/2010/08/27/ask-the-attorney-videos-youtube-who-owns-them/.

[6] Terms of Service, Snapchat, https://www.snapchat.com/terms (last visited Mar. 31, 2016).

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] See id.

[10] See id.

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

Alexander Gorelik

is a third year evening J.D. candidate with an interest in pretty much anything related to copyright, trademark, and entertainment law. During the day, he works negotiating and writing contracts and on the weekends he tries to stay involved with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (MDVLA). In his spare time, he particularly enjoys deep conversations, long walks on the beach and is a huge supporter of world peace.