German chefs can claim copyright over the arrangement of food on plates

It started with a 2013 ruling that extended copyright to "applied arts," and it gives the force of law to "no photographs of your food allowed" signs in restaurants.

It's always been the case that proprietors of restaurants could prohibit some activities on their premises (with exceptions: breast-feeding, service animals, and prohibitions that discriminated on the basis of race, etc). But in those cases, a restaurateur's only remedy was to ask you to stop and/or leave.

But once chefs have a copyright over their food arrangement — including food that's been simply slopped onto the plate without any real thought — then they have a range of civil and even criminal tools they can use to punish people who take pictures of food. A violation of the house rules has become a violation of the law, with statutory damages if the restaurant prevails.

Even if you don't care for the habit of taking photos of food — I am guilty of taking the occasional food-photo, but I also understand that it's often tedious to be subjected to others' dinnerpix — do you really think that your aesthetic preferences should have the force of law?

Apparently, this situation goes back to a German court judgment from 2013, which widened copyright law to include the applied arts too. As a result, the threshold for copyrightability was lowered considerably, with the practical consequence that it was easier for chefs to sue those who posted photographs of their creations without permission. The Die Welt article notes that this ban can apply even to manifestly unartistic piles of food dumped unceremoniously on a plate if a restaurant owner puts up a notice refusing permission for photos to be taken of its food.

Germany Says Taking Photos Of Food Infringes The Chef's Copyright [Glyn Moody/Techdirt]

(Image: Slop Plate, Brian Boucheron, CC-BY)