Instagram has made the biggest change to its app since it started allowing non-square photos this week, introducing a stories feature which bears a striking resemblance to Snapchat's own pioneering stories feed.

Instagram Stories was quietly introduced into the app overnight this week. For those that aren't familiar with the Snapchat feature it is a series of images or short videos (10 seconds maximum) from people you follow, which will appear at the top of the app. However, unlike your curated and well-filtered Instagram pictures, this content will disappear after twenty-four hours. 

© Instagram
© Instagram

The Facebook-owned company will hope that this will increase engagement with the platform, as users feel less pressured to only post immaculate pictures.

So what does this mean legally and what impact will it have on the two social media giants?

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Much like the Duffer brothers in Netflix's recent hit Stranger Things, Instagram hasn't been shy in referencing its influences. Kevin Weil, head of product, told Wired UK: "Our belief is that 'stories' is going to become a common format; that is developed on multiple apps and services."

"Facebook was the first to introduce the Feed, now tons of apps have feeds and you don't think anything of it when another app uses a feed – it's the same thing with hashtags. We think the story is going to become a common format."

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom even told TechCrunch that Snapchat deserves "all the credit".

UK Tech Weekly Podcast: Instagram stories

Legal implications

First off, what Instagram has done is in no way illegal.

The reason Instagram has been so brazen about their blatant copying is probably due to the general principle in IP law called the 'idea-expression dichotomy'. In short, this means that an idea - such as functionality provided on an app or website - isn't generally protectable. It is only the expression of that idea that can be protected.

As Jeremy Harris, IP and Technology Disputes Partner at the UK-based technology and digital media specialist legal firm Kemp Little LLP explained to Techworld: "Unless they are copying the underlying source code, or perhaps the exact way it looks, it's unlikely that they have a case under copyright law."

When it comes to the name, Harris says that despite not knowing the specifics of the case, because 'stories' is very "descriptive", like Twitter's 'moments', it is unlikely that Snapchat has been able to register it as a trade mark. Even if they have been able to though, Harris says Instagram could "go on the offensive and counterclaim that the name is too descriptive to be a trade mark in the first place."

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So Snapchat has limited legal options, but Harris does see this as a PR opportunity for Evan Spiegel's company. "I would see it as a PR opportunity," he says. "It's a chance to poke fun at Instagram for copying them."

Snapchat refused to comment on the launch of Instagram stories.

Who wins?

Snapchat is a darling of younger users whereas Instagram is generally seen as a more mature social network, and the figures back that up. Instagram has 300 million daily users whereas, at last count, Snapchat has around half at 150 million. 

What Instagram doesn't have yet is one of Snapchat's most popular features, the dynamic filters and face-swapping capabilities, but in theory if Instagram's happy to copy the stories feature it is safe to assume it's willing to work that feature out too.

Interestingly, my first browse of the Instagram stories feature showed a large number of people I follow - celebrities, 'influencers', my friends - commenting on the similarity to Snapchat, with a lot of them stating that they wouldn't need to use Snapchat any longer.

We know that social networks aren't mutually exclusive, but fans of Instagram - all 300 million of them - may now do away with their Snapchat accounts and double down on their Instagram presence.