On Tuesday, Instagram revealed an exciting new update! Users would now be able to—get this—post "stories" of photos and videos that would automatically disappear after 24 hours. It was surprising...ly familiar. Yes, Instagram's big update is basically Snapchat. But is it legal for Instagram to copy Snapchat stories? Technically, and perhaps unfortunately for Snapchat, yes.
Tech companies have long been ripping off one another's innovations, whether it was Facebook introducing an app called Poke, in which messages disappeared, or multiple companies incorporating the hashtag first used on Twitter. Although companies have denied plagiarism (or "inspiration") in the past, Instagram isn't trying to hide that it's copying Snapchat. In fact, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom even told TechCrunch,
They deserve all the credit... When you are an innovator, that’s awesome. Just like Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.
Instagram is offering the idea that "stories" are similar to messaging or photos, that they are not unique to Snapchat, but a feature that any app could add, as long as it tweaks it somehow. And how do social media users feel about that?
But legally, even though it may feel like Instagram pulled a Melania Trump, the company's argument is sound. Brian Barrett over at Wired points out that any sort of patent Snapchat Stories may have would likely be specific to the interface, not a patent for the idea of "stories" themselves. So for Instagram to be actually breaking the law, the company would have had to build their stories feature so that its interface looked basically the same as Snapchat.
And because, at a base level, Instagram and Snapchat have different designs, that didn't happen. So the smaller company can't really fight back. Tonight, I imagine, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel is getting very drunk and wondering about the future.
Still, there's a chance Instagram's move won't work out for the company. Its parent company, Facebook, tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion back in 2013, and Snapchat refused. Since then, every attempt Facebook has made to offer blatantly Snapchat-esque features has failed. (Exhibit A: Poke. That's no longer a thing.)
Clearly, a fair number in the social media world are up in arms about what seems like an unfair move. Maybe Instagram Stories will die not in an actual court, but in the court of public opinion.
Or maybe a year from now, we'll all be asking, "Snapchat who?"