07 September, 2015

A Feast for the Eyes - Food Porn Banned in Germany?

Since the emergence of Instagram and other similar social networks, the power and marketability of pictures, especially of food, has sky-rocketed. This writer fondly remembers a time when he could go to a restaurant without having his friends take pictures of everyone's untouched dishes before tucking in. Alas, those days are gone, and with highly shared pictures comes a great deal of free marketing for the restaurants or eateries featured in those pictures. In other words, as Dominique Crenn, Chef de Cuisine at Atelier Crenn, put it: "Instagram came to give a voice to chefs and to the food they serve". An increase in sales or reservations can make or break a smaller establishment, while providing more established restaurants the financial boost they need among a more focussed, discerning consumerscape, and these images can be the difference between notoriety or infamy. Many would want to control this projected image, so could you exert ownership on photographs of your dishes?

In a somewhat interesting turn of events, albeit some 2 years ago, the German courts extended copyright protection to 'applied arts' under Directive 98/71/EC on the legal protection of designs in case I ZR 143/12 (press release on the decision in German here). This, according to many news outlets, covers food or plate arrangements, so long as they are not merely trivially thrown on the plate, but have an "advanced level" of design to them. This would entail more thought, and clearly is intended to cover those dishes that reflect a more artistic, sensual experience (for the eyes).

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As with many other types of artistic works, some dishes can exhibit a great deal of thought, ingenuity and planning, and this writer does appreciate a possible need to protect them under law. Even so, the enforcement of the new German law would be difficult, as many chefs would not sue those seeking to merely spread the name and design of their restaurant's dishes; however, should they want to keep new dishes or experience under wraps from the general public this route would seem much more attractive.

Under UK law it would be difficult to argue a case for the protection of food porn. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, sculptures enjoy protection as artistic works under copyright. Should a chef make a particularly sculpture-esque food presentation, it would be possible for it to be argued as protectable under copyright, but with the caveat that the food sculpture would have to retain its artistic merit outside of just being sustenance. Similarly in the US their copyright legislation allows for the protection of sculptural works, so far as "...such design incorporates... sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article". This would mean that the sculptural aspect, i.e. the artistic features of the food piece, would have to exist outside of the food or its purpose (to nourish or to be enjoyed taste wise); a fact that would be difficult, albeit not impossible, to prove.

As one can see the protection of food porn is very difficult, even borderline impossible within the common law sans any major changes in the law. One could say this is the correct approach, since the design or food porn quality of any given dish is purely transient; an aspect of visual enjoyment prior to the consumption of the food, and intrinsically a part of the process of enjoyment in conjunction with the taste and feel of the item. Pictures of food are an important aspect of modern marketing, but it will be some time till protection is afforded to something more than the image of the dish.

Source: Eater

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