It is illegal to screenshot and share Snapchat snaps without consent, minister says

Ed Vaizey warned offenders could face a prison sentence

Jon Stone
Sunday 27 March 2016 17:01 BST
Snapchat is a popular mobile phone app that allows the sending of timed picture messages
Snapchat is a popular mobile phone app that allows the sending of timed picture messages (LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

It is illegal to screenshot Snapchat picture messages and pass them to others on without consent, the Government’s culture minister has said.

Ed Vaizey said anyone who who screenshotted a Snapchat message and shared it with others could be sued by its original sender – and face a prison sentence.

Snapchat is a messaging service and social network. Its primary defining feature is to send images and video clips which disappear after a set amount of time. It is easy to permanently save such messages by using a phone’s screenshot function, however.

Digital economy and culture minister Ed Vaizey
Digital economy and culture minister Ed Vaizey (Getty)

“Under UK copyright law, it would be unlawful for a Snapchat user to copy an image and make it available to the public without the consent of the image owner,” the minister warned.

“The image owner would be able to sue anyone who does this for copyright infringement.

“Snapchat photos are automatically deleted after 10 seconds. The Snapchat privacy policy states that if Snapchat is able to detect that a recipient has taken a screenshot of an image, they will try to inform the original poster.

“However, Snapchat advises users to avoid sending messages which they would not want to be saved or shared.”

The minister, whose brief covers “culture and digital economy”, also said that as well as breaching copyright, anyone who passed on images of a particularly sexual nature without consent could face an additional prison sentence.

“The disclosure of private sexual photographs or films without the consent of an individual who appears in them and with intent to cause that individual distress, is an offence under Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015,” he said.

“Those convicted could face a maximum sentence of two years in prison.”

Copyright infringement itself is punishable by 10 years in prison and/or an “unlimited” fine, though this is restricted to six months in prioson and a £50,000 fine in magistrates’ courts.

Mr Vaizey, a Conservative, had been asked by DUP MP Jim Shannon what steps the Government was taking to ensure that Snapchat images were not “made public without the consent of the image owner”.

Contrary to the minister’s claim, which was made in a written parliamentary answer, Snapchat images are not all deleted after 10 seconds and can be set to disappear after different amounts of time.

Because of the time-limited nature of its messages, Snapchat is often used to share explicit photographs.

According to its makers the app handles billions of photos and videos a day.

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