April 9, 2019

VSCO is suing PicsArt over reverse-engineered photo filters. Is preset armageddon approaching?

VSCO is suing PicsArt, a photo-sharing platform and editing app, for allegedly ripping off the company’s presets.

VSCO’s business of presets

While VSCO isn’t the only company to offer presets for sale (as well as free ones), they’re undoubtedly the best example of a company that has married community and photo editing. Early in VSCO’s existence, they offered a series of presets based off of classic film emulations that worked in tandem with Lightroom and Photoshop. Since then, VSCO has turned the corner to focus primarily on mobile and with it, a subscription service called VSCO X. VSCO X offers exclusive presets, transformative editing tools, and educational opportunities. To that point, VSCO’s presets are what draw in followers, but they stay for the community. To date, there are 187.5m #vsco and 197.6m #vscocam hashtags on Instagram.

What’s the VSCO and PicsArt beef?

  • VSCO alleges that 17 or more PicsArt employees made accounts on VSCO
  • PicsArt then reverse engineered 19 of VSCO’s presets, and then integrated them into their own platform as PicsArt exclusives under their Gold subscription plan
  • This is in direct violation of VSCO’s terms where users “agree not to sell, license, rent, modify, distribute, copy, reproduce, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, publish, adapt, edit or create derivative works from any VSCO Content.”

Is there actual merit or do they just look really similar?

Actually, there are cold, hard numbers that suggest they’re direct rips:

“VSCO’s color scientists have determined that at least nineteen presets published by PicsArt are effectively identical to VSCO presets that are only available through a VSCO account. Specifically, VSCO determined that those PicsArt filters have a Mean Color Difference (“MCD”) of less than two CIEDE2000 units (in some cases, far less than two units) compared to their VSCO counterparts. An MCD of less than two CIEDE2000 units between filters is imperceptible to the human eye and cannot have been achieved by coincidence or visual or manual approximation. On information and belief, PicsArt could have only achieved this degree of similarity between its filters and those of VSCO by using its employees’ VSCO user accounts to access the VSCO app and reverse engineer VSCO’s presets.”

Why is it a big deal?

The photography influencer community has relied upon alternative revenue streams outside of their actual craft which includes workshops and presets. Some personalities like James Popsys are adamant against presets based on creative principle, but the general sentiment is that many photographers are using preset bases such as VSCO to which they make small tweaks, repackage, and sell them to their followers.

Notable court cases like VSCO bring to light that the gig might be up for repackaged VSCO sellers who are moving the highlight slider ever so slightly and desaturating a photo.

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