03 October, 2017

Hungry for a Fight - Are There Rights in a Recipe How-to Video?

Food has become incredibly trendy in recent years (not that people didn't eat in years before), and many aspiring home cooks and chefs alike have moved onto modern platforms to share their know-how and passion with others. Sites like YouTube are filled with instructional and entertaining cooking videos, garnering millions of views from all over the world. Because of this, there is tremendous value in these videos and their viewers, and competition can get heated. This blog has discussed IP and food before (more here and here), and this writer has just come across a very interesting dispute over a how-to video involving cupcakes.

While the case has only recently begun, it still shows an interesting facet of copyright, particularly surrounding recipe videos.

The case of Elizabeth Labau v Food Network (complaint accessible here) concerns a recipe video made by Ms Labau for her website SugarHero. After a very successful online recipe that went viral, Ms Labau created a how-to video showing how to make her recipe step-by-step, following the success of her recipe article, which was subsequently published in December 2016. Sometime later in December 2016, the Food Network had published a video illustrating their take on the snow globe cupcake, and according to Ms Labau, copied numerous elements from her video, including "...choices of shots, camera angles, colors, and lighting [and] textual descriptors". Ms Labau has since complained to the District Court of the Central District of California, alleging copyright infringement.

Alex's take on cupcakes was a little "unique"
Although the decision from the District Court is still pending, the case will face its share of problems along the way. Ms Labau has not asserted copyright infringement in the recipe for the snow globe cupcakes, but only in the video showing how to make the cupcakes themselves. As discussed on this blog before, recipes are incredibly difficult to protect, and the only thing one can pursue in relation to them is the expression of that recipe, i.e. pictures or video. A simple list of ingredients won't be protectable.

It'll be interesting to see where the case goes, and whether the Food Network has actually copied elements of Ms Labau's video. Due to the proximity on posting the videos it is likely that one took inspiration from another, but as long as the expression of the recipe differs from Ms Labau's video, it'll be difficult for an argument for infringement to be established. This writer thinks Ms Labau could have a case, but this would require a near exact shot-for-shot recreation to have much strength in a court of law.

This writer does think that the case will most likely settle out of court, but a proper inspection of how-to videos and copyright would be very interesting, considering the generic nature of these types of videos. The style of many cooking how-to videos are only distinguished through choices of lighting and general filmography, and this writer thinks it would be interesting to see whether a sequence of steps could attract copyright protection, and how close would one have to get to infringe those rights, seeing as the style of these types of videos if widely established. Should the court side with Ms Labau, it could open the floodgates for many claims involving simple step-by-step videos of the same, or similar recipes to fight for the scrupulous viewership of today's Internet populace.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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