Think twice before you Instagram your Michelin star-studded meal — at least, if you’re dining in Germany, where even the food on your plate may be subject to copyright law. As local newspaper Die Welt recently brought to widespread attention, a Federal Court of Justice ruling from November 2013 expanded the definition of copyright to include protection of beautifully arranged food (known as food porn, in pop lingo), stating that the visually ravishing dishes are considered artistic property of their chefs. That means that diners eager to snap and share on social media — even for noncommercial use — a photo of the meal they paid for may receive a fine of several hundred euros. Court proceedings could possibly bump the number up into “the four-digit range,” as Welt reported. To avoid such a charge, anyone with a desire to share any unique arrangements of #foodporn may have to first receive permission from whoever crafted the “work.”
“An elaborately arranged dish in a restaurant can be a copyright-protected work,” Dr. Niklas Haberkamm, a partner at corporate law firm Lampmann, Haberkamm & Rosenbaum told Welt (as translated by The Local). “In such a case, the creator of the work has the right to decide where, and to what extent, the work can be reproduced.”
It’s unclear, however, what makes an edible arrangement sufficiently elaborate to fall under the law’s protection; it seems like a court would have to execute decisions on a case-by-case basis, which would make the whole situation more ridiculous than it already is. German legal services website Anwalt tried to define some parameters in a recently issued tip, stating that one measures artistic merit through the meal’s level of design and its creator’s artistic intention. For example, fast food is free game, the post proffers; but its advice probably isn’t terribly helpful when applied to the plates of many restaurants, especially pricey ones.
So far, according to Welt, a chef has yet to claim infringement on his or her creative concoctions. Perhaps it’s because the law is just entering public discourse, but the more likely reason is that any smart business would recognize that images disseminated via social media — which often allows users to tag the locations and accounts of restaurants and chefs — is a way to score some sweet, free publicity.