Snapchat's face-mapping filters have quickly become a hallmark of the popular photo-sharing platform. And they've just as quickly been swarmed with controversy.
First, there was digital blackface and now, there are accusations that Snapchat stole the idea for a filter from an independent artist who wasn't compensated for their work. What's more, there are a number of artists claiming to have come up with the idea first. In the dustup, Snapchat's quietly pulled the new filter.
Snapchat first introduced filters (which it calls "lenses") last November in an attempt to further monetize its platform. Users could spend a few bucks to gain access to a couple of unique filters that would differentiate their snaps from their friends'. This past January, though, just months after it introduced the lens store, Snapchat shuttered the project, opting instead to curate a selection of free lenses, some of which were brand-sponsored. Since then Snapchat's been notoriously tight-lipped about the way that it selects which lenses it's going to share.
Last night, Nebraska-based rapper HAKIM took to Twitter to call Snapchat out for allegedly ripping off the cover art that Briana Barnes, one of his collaborators, designed for him in February.
When I spoke with HAKIM, he explained to me that he'd been digitally projecting the mask onto his own face for some time before Snapchat's filter was released.
"Briana initially came up with this idea late February from a photoshoot we did," HAKIM told me in am e-mail. "She took our head shots and wanted to capture our hairstyles and relate back to title of the tape 'Basquiat DaVinci.'"
According to the rapper, a week after he'd began to upload photos of himself with the mask swapped onto his face, Snapchat created a similar filter and never reached out to his team about compensation or collaboration.
HAKIM's story of corporate theft at the expense of an indie artist is a familiar and sympathetic one, but as his callout to Snapchat gained more visibility on Twitter, questions about the veracity of his claims also sprung up.
Twitter user @katheartwell called HAKIM and another artist out for allegedly stealing the geometric face art idea in an attempt to gain larger followings on social media.
"People lying about art for retweets when I reality they BOTH stole from [Alexander Khoklov]," Heartwell tweeted.
When you look at Alexander Khokhlov's website and see his photo series 2D or not 2D, @katheartwell's point becomes much more apparent. The fragmented, geometric aesthetic found in both HAKIM's cover art and the Snapchat filter are similar. Khokhlov's though (pictured below, center), depicts a model whose face is physically painted in a similar style, and was taken some time between 2012 and 2013.
When I spoke with Khokhlov, he told me that he'd never spoken to or worked with HAKIM and his company or with Snapchat.
Snapchat and Briana Barnes did not return requests for comment.
Now, it's unclear just where the idea originally came from and the new filter mysteriously disappeared from Snapchat this morning.
Khokhlov makes the strongest point for himself considering that he dates his photos back to as early 2012, while HAKIM says that his art was produced in early February. While HAKIM is staunch in his insistence that his team didn't take any ideas from Khokhlov, he did make it very clear that he was interested in getting the word out about his music career:
"I appreciate the follow," he told me via Twitter direct message "I'm a local rap artist trying to make a name for Nebraska! Lol, I would love if you checked out my newest music video?!"
UPDATE: In a statement provided to Fusion, Snapchat agreed that its filter created a look very similar to Khokhlov's and that the resemblance was what prompted them to remove the filter.
"We are sorry for this embarrassing mistake," a Snapchat spokesperson said. "We are taking action to make sure it won't happen again."