Copyright + Food: Photographing Food in Restaurants

Squirrel Platter in Cusco, Peru

Are you a tableside food photo addict? How many times a week do you snap a photo of a restaurant plate with your smart phone or camera–whether it’s your plate of grilled squirrel in Peru (above) or the margherita pizza at your favorite Italian restaurant? Could you be banned for taking that photo? Possibly. Are you infringing copyright by taking that photo? No.

No Copyright in Prepared Dishes

There is no copyright in prepared dishes. You can take photos of beautiful (or ugly) dishes in restaurants. You can take photographs of your own food creations in your own kitchens. You can post these photos on your blog, Facebook page, on Twitter and elsewhere.

I should mention however that if there is a sign or policies restricting photographs of food in restaurants, it’s best to comply with the restaurant’s wishes for non-copyright reasons.

What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright exists in a variety of works such as articles, blog posts, office memo, books, songs, and movies. Copyright automatically exists in these works in most countries upon creation of the works in some sort of tangible form – on paper, saved on a computer, recorded on audio or video media. A prepared dish or “food creation” however does not have any copyright protection. Although it may have minimal or much creativity, it is not a “work” within the meaning of copyright law.

Even if the prepared dish is from a recipe, there is no copyright protection in that prepared dish. Mere listing of ingredients in recipes are not protected by copyright however explanatory notes on how to create something with those ingredients may be protected by copyright. Many elements of cookbooks are protected by copyright. However, ideas, facts and the creation of dishes from recipes are not copyright protectable works.

In sum, if you photograph your rendition of a recipe, then you do not need to clear any rights from the author of the recipe. Similarly, you do not need permission from a chef or restauranteur or food stylist for photographing prepared dishes.

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