Food News

Why One Blogger Is Suing the Food Network

June  5, 2017

In December of 2014, Elizabeth LaBau, the blogger behind SugarHero, posted a self-produced recipe for snow globe cupcakes with gelatin bubbles. As the name suggests, they're cupcakes that resemble snow globes, made with transparent globs of gelatin. The recipe, she claims, is original, the result of an idea that'd been percolating in her mind. The post was a smash, congesting traffic on her site so much that it crashed.

LaBau is a full-time food blogger, and she relies on the stream of capital that her site provides to make a living. The post’s success translated to revenue, more than tripling her earnings that month. She made good on the post’s success with a handsomely-produced how-to video for the recipe, which she posted a full two years later in early December of 2016. The video amassed 12,000 likes and 114,000 shares on Facebook.

The Food Network posted its own Facebook video three weeks later, and the video gained considerably more impressions: 145,000 likes, over 11,000,000 shares. LaBau found the video suspiciously similar to her own, and though LaBau wrote the Food Network four days after the company's video went live, the network ignored her and declined to give her credit for the work. Last Thursday, LaBau filed a lawsuit against Food Network in California federal court, alleging that it’d outright stolen the recipe video from her, parroting her original video shot-for-shot.

Contesting the authorship or originality of a certain recipe is, more often than not, a fool’s errand, and existing copyright law reflects this: mere listings of ingredients don't constitute infringement. But copyright infringement extends to “expressions of recipes,” whether they're descriptions, explanations, or illustrations. LaBau’s lawsuit is using this particular interpretation of copyright law to allege that the Food Network aped her video. (You can read the suit in full here.)

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The suit maintains that Food Network—a titan of a media company, with access to capital, staff, and resources to mount creative projects and see them through, especially compared to a food blogger without that institutional support—reaped the benefits of LaBau's creative work wrongfully, inflicting both economic and psychological distress upon her. Food Network has yet to issue a public statement regarding LaBau’s lawsuit.

Whether or not you believe this particular suit has any merit, it brings forth an overarching, thorny, and recurring issue within food media (and the power dynamics that exist within it): Food media can be a palimpsest. Ideas get recycled continually, various authors borrow from one another, and attribution gets muddied very quickly and very easily. This suit asks certain questions about creative ownership and access to resources that'll likely nag at food media for quite some time. We’ll see how this pans out.

Please note that Scripps Networks Interactive, the Food Network's parent company, is an investor in Food52.

Read the lawsuit here. What's your take? Let us know in the comments.

27 Comments

Laura415 June 10, 2017
Not to be a jerk but it's "precedent", iPhone spellcheck, not "President".
 
meathead June 9, 2017
The issue is intellectual honesty. On AmazingRibs.com we occasionally get great ideas from other folks. When we do we ALWAYS say "this recipe was inspired by..." and provide a link. Credit where credit is due. Alas, we are aware of MANY MANY websites and bloggers, large and small, who steal from us without credit, even going so far as to copy and paste text or grab our photos.
 
Allison W. June 8, 2017
Just watched the 2 videos. This is what my father would have called, "Similar Different." Obviously since the recipe is the same, the directions have to follow the recipe, but the presentation is not exact; certainly not a "frame by frame" duplication. This is like when a product becomes a fad, and everybody and his brother creates cheap knock-offs. Frustrating but that's the way of the world.
 
lydia.sugarman June 8, 2017
If nothing else, this brou-ha-ha is sending traffic her way. So, she's already winning<br />On a side note, it would be nice if Food52 actually published at least one image relevant to the article. Talk about something that started out as a nice blog with dedicated readers and contributors cashing in and whoring every over-priced gewgaw....
 
Joycelyn June 8, 2017
Sorry but Ms. LaBau's gelatine globe is not her idea alone. There's a good many cake photos and cupcakes on Cake Central with gelatine bubbles and with some, a how to of making them is added. There's also photos of snow globe cupcakes on CC that were posted long before Ms. LaBau posted her snow globe cupcakes on her blog. <br /><br />You can also find tutorials online for gelatine globe cupcakes so once again, not excusive to Ms. LaBau.<br />Although I understand Ms. LaBau's globe cupcake Xmas designs are her own, the gelatine bubble/globe idea is not.
 
Glen P. June 8, 2017
The two videos are similar, but the Food Network video is not a frame by frame copy - at all. <br />Similar, but not the same.<br />There are only so many ways to illustrate a recipe in video format; so there will always be similarities. I don't believe the case has any merit.
 
Anicia A. June 6, 2017
I honestly don't think she has a chance unfortunately, it does suck but there is not so much you can do. The recipe itself has no legal ties to it nor is it HER original recipe ( There are recipes so far back into the early 2000's-- far before her video). A food blogger up against an entire network of lawyers? I think the most she can get is a small settlement check or maybe they'll take the video down but I doubt she will cash out with this one.
 
Foodimentary June 6, 2017
I don't see this as a big guy vs little guy suit. The videos are similar and maybe the video producers should have at it but otherwise setting a president about video technique is just making blogging less and less enjoyable to do. I have been blogging for over 13 years. I liked it when a blog was a personal journal. Now that it's all about money and, potential, ego for bloggers. It's becoming less "Joy of Cooking" and more "Judge Judy."
 
Foodimentary June 6, 2017
Bakarella posted snow globe cupcakes on their very popular blog on December 22, 2008. Should they sue her? There are many other postings about this same technique before then. If she is suing because it was so soon after her post I could potentially see merit but not really, it was the Holiday season, should they have waited until January. She did nothing unique here. Read all these other recipes and they are so similar I'm surprised SHE wasn't sued. Did she need the attention? I must be missing something...
 
SH June 6, 2017
You are right, it is similar, however Bakarella used plastic domes on the cupcakes, not gelatin. Goo catch though!
 
Dingoberry June 7, 2017
Read the article--it's not about the recipe, it's about the video. Recipes can't be copyrighted but creative works like videos can be.
 
Foodimentary June 8, 2017
Like I said in my later comment " The videos are similar and maybe the video producers should have at it" If they copied it frame by frame or in a very similar way then there is merit. If not and they are deemed simply 'similar' videos then SugarHero just got a whole lot of press, hits and attention. It's a court thing. In the end SugarHero wins, here we are talking about her site. Video expression of a recipe is a complete different animal than stealing a recipe. The article said they are mining the law to piece together the case. If it were common then there would be prier president. Thus, it does not go to court often or at all. I'm not on the side of the big food tv channels, I'm stating that this will either be noted as a common thing or open the doors for every recipe video to be put under the looking glass for further suits. Food blogging is becoming more and more 'The People's Court.' I long for the days when you blogged for fun and not for money, There may just be too many cooks in the kitchen.
 
HalfPint June 5, 2017
I have sort of a different take on this. I agree that stealing of ideas and creations is wrong. What bothers/worries me about this trend, as someone belong pointed out, is that some intern probably saw the video and created his/her own video and presented this as original work. And FN didn't care enough to check or pull the video, because everyone does this. I recently had a conversation with my dentist who was livid that her son thought it was ok to plagiarize because "that's what all the kids were doing" at school and the school was doing nothing about it. Are we teaching or have we taught a generation that "borrowing" someone's work without proper citation is ok because they can???
 
Christina N. June 6, 2017
Pretty sure this wasn't the work of an intern. The camera work and number of set design elements suggest at least a small crew (a single person is gonna have a hard time being both the hand model and the camera operator for those focus pulls.) No, this was almost certainly actually produced by one of FN's full-time, "grown-up" producers, who should have known better before, but I certainly hope this lawsuit sticks and they know better now.
 
Mimi T. June 8, 2017
I interned at Food Network magazine and I can tell you, we interns did not do any video making. I was sent on grocery runs/shopping errands about 50% of the time, cleaning out the storage closet and cataloguing old versions of the magazine. Maybe I was asked to transcribe some interviews, but I didn't do anything close to shooting my own video. The only content I was allowed to pitch for was little blurbs on their calendar near the front of the magazine. Though this video could have been produced by their studio side so, who knows.
 
Bette C. June 5, 2017
I though the first time u make up something great, articles, books, any thing must b copyrighted. I give full rights 2 a school piece & then it was published. I was paid in knowing that I had accomplished something I did. I was chosen by may college prof over the whole English department. Wow. Pat on back
 
Tonia L. June 5, 2017
Unfortunately it happens all of the time. The two most notable ones for me were my Bloomin' Baked Apple and my Tater Tot Breakfast Pizza. The big guys on Facebook don't even bother changing any of the ingredients. Some openly admit that they search Pinterest for the most popular recipes and those are the ones they make into videos.
 
HalfPint June 5, 2017
@Tonia, you can't copyright a list of ingredients. If they pass off your creation as their own, it's a ethical no-no, especially if they did not give you the credit for it, but not theft. Now if they took your recipe and reprinted it word for word, that's theft. If you created a video of this, and they copied it, that's theft too. In this case, not only did they steal her idea and method, but they plagiarized her video. Probably thought that this was some small time blogger who didn't have the money or energy to fight them. I hope she wins big time. Sorry about what they did to you. For what it's worth, even the bigger guys have their work stolen (search "Kenji Alt-Lopez" and "Tyler Florence").
 
sevimel June 6, 2017
Same here - low carb recipes, especially made with cauliflower are popular now so Delish and other video producers are making videos for recipes of mine and other bloggers and getting all the credit and big FB share numbers. The answer isn't to whine about it and how unfair it is - it's to keep producing great content. If you identify your success with one good recipe that gets a ton of traffic then you're going to tank like every other one hit wonder. Stay on the cutting edge and keep making creative recipes and you'll always be one step ahead of the people ripping you off.
 
Laura415 June 10, 2017
The answer is not to be an apologist for a huge corporation but to look at the merits of the case and go to trial. Win or lose the small guy giving it up to the big guy is not the answer.
 
Greta W. June 5, 2017
I just watched both videoes. They are so similar. They definitely stole IP, not just the idea, but also every last detail of the video. I am rooting for her!!!!!!!!! I
 
Anicia A. June 6, 2017
In chatting with a lawyer friend-- the content isn't hers nor is the recipe itself trademarked or has any legal ties to it. If you google search, you'll find plenty of other bloggers who created content around this recipe all the way back in 2007. The judge will just say " oh well" lol
 
tanabananderson June 6, 2017
Your assessment is incomplete. Intellectual copyrights apply to ideas beyond mere recipe ingredients. The Food Network shoplifted her entire brain—eyeballs, words, idea. ALL OF IT.
 
HalfPint June 6, 2017
@Anicia, the video is totally her's and they stole it, frame for frame. They totally plagiarized her video. Yes, others have created content around the recipe, but FN didn't even bother to create their own.
 
Moshee June 5, 2017
She most def has a winning lawsuit. I hope she wins big against them in CA courts, but I'm sure they'll settle out. That's outright IP robbery. Unbelievable! I bet they'll find some intern at Food Network who watched it and then they produced their own. This kind of thing happens all the time. GRRRRRR.
 
Denise June 5, 2017
I had a trademarked name Food Fanatics - for years....TVFN kept using it..... my attorney would write letters etc.... not a peep- would disappear and then show back up.... I sold the trademark to US Foods for a small fortune..... they went after TVFN - shut that idea right down. They steal from everyone.
 
HalfPint June 5, 2017
@Denise, cool! FN thinks they can get away with it because most people do not have the legal clout and money that a giant like US Foods has. I'm highly impressed with what you did and totally disgusted with FN. Glad I haven't watched any of their shows in years. Go Team LaBau!