Food Network Sued Over Snow Globe Cupcakes How-To Video.

The hype around Snow Globe Cupcakes soon turned frosty for Food Network following a claim from Internet chef Elizabeth LaBau, aka ‘SugarHero’, that her idea and techniques for a snow globe cupcakes how-to video were stolen by Food Network. The copyright infringement claim filed against Food Network came before the Central District Court of California after LaBau claimed that the video posted on the Facebook page of Food Network ripped off her work and gave no credit to her.

The Snow Globe Cupcakes – a cupcake topped with a transparent gelatine bubble that contains festive decorations, all of which are edible – were first acknowledged during the 2014 holiday season when LaBau published a recipe on the SugarHero website instructing people on how to make the holiday novelties. A Facebook post the following year then caused the recipe to go viral and, according to the suit filed in a California federal court, it more than tripled her income that month. Following the success of the video, she made a how-to video and posted it in December of 2016. A few weeks later Food Network posted a very similar video which then triggered LaBau to file a copyright infringement claim against them.

The complaint made by LaBau does not seek copyright protection for the recipe, but for the video itself. Due to copyright laws, ‘mere listings of ingredients’ are not protected, however original works of authorship are protected. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, this may include ‘expression’ of a recipe such as ‘a description, explanation, or illustration’, and so LaBau’s situation raises an interesting legal question as to whether her how-to video is capable of copyright protection even if the underlying recipe is not.

LaBau stated that she dedicated ‘years of hard work and late nights’ to her project SugarHero and that she had to compete against many corporate food websites, often supported by large, well-financed companies. LaBau worked relentlessly and her ‘how-to’ cooking videos proved not only to be an effective marketing tool but also a strategic legal move. SugarHero accused Food network of ‘free-riding’ on her hard work, especially as it represents a significant investment on her part.

The copyright infringement claim itself does not present anything out of the ordinary, covering as it does the elements expected for the copyright of cinematographic work. Despite this, the decision (should the case reach this stage before settling) may have an impact on the wider food industry, particularly relating to online and multimedia output. If the California court sides with LaBau the decision may reopen the doors of copyright protection in cases of highly-visual or unique recipes recorded in how-to videos.

For more information on Intellectual Property law, please contact Nick de Figueiredo