Snow globes and cupcakes. Those words alone make you think of childhood and puppies, unicorns and Christmas, right?
Snow globes and cupcakes just brought one blogger straight to federal court. Elizabeth Blau, a pastry chef who runs the website SugarHero, is suing the Food Network for allegedly ripping off a viral video she made in which she cleverly constructed a "snow globe cupcake" to place on top of cakes. Yes, you can actually eat the cupcake and the snow globe, which is made out of gelatin sheets.
After posting the video on her website in December 2016, Blau was pleased to receive 5.6 million views in the three weeks leading up to Christmas. The video garnered 12,000 likes, 114,000 shares, 3,200 comments, and reached over 15.9 million people, according to papers she filed in court. She wasn't so pleased, however, when she saw what she says is a strikingly similar video on the Food Network Facebook page three weeks after her video was posted. The Food Network video also illustrated the preparation of a snow globe cupcake.
Blau is now suing the Food Network for copyright infringement.
Blau first posted a recipe for a snow globe cupcake back in 2015; it was so popular that her site crashed. After she tripled her income that month—thanks in part to linked sales of gelatin sheets—she decided to make the video that is now the subject of her lawsuit.
Although recipes are typically not protected by copyright law—at least not ones that are just lists of ingredients and straightforward instructions—copyright law does protect "expression," and Blau claims that her video was distinctly expressive enough to be protected. She says that the Food Network's video copied her "choices of shots, camera angles, colors, and lighting, textual descriptors, and other artistic and expressive elements." She's asking for monetary damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Questions of attribution often arise in the recipe world, even when everyone acknowledges that copyright doesn't come into play. Recently, BuzzFeed was accused of "idea theft" by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the managing culinary editor of Serious Eats, who claimed BuzzFeed ripped off the idea behind his recipe for halal cart-style chicken and rice. He wanted attribution and says he didn't get it. Blau, too, is claiming that she asked Food Network to give her credit for her recipe, but they never responded.
What's more, although Blau's snow globe cupcake might not be the first of its kind—a search of Pinterest reveals plenty of cupcakes that evoke snow globes—she's claiming that the distinctive, expressive elements of her video are, in fact, protectable under copyright law.
A spokesperson for Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent company of the Food Network, told MUNCHIES, "We're just learning of this complaint and have no additional information to offer." Blau declined to comment and directed MUNCHIES to her attorney, William Bowen, who provided us with the following statement: "Elizabeth is an entrepreneur who has built her own food business, branded as SugarHero, from scratch through her own hard work and creativity. She has also invested significant efforts in sharing her ideas through social media, and in particular through video content on social media that illustrates her unique Snow Globe Cupcakes that have earned her considerable accolades, attention, and acclaim. Disappointingly, rather than come up with their own ideas and content, Food Network released a video shortly after hers which copied Elizabeth's creative proprietary work shot-for-shot in order to profit from her creativity and hard work without investing the same time, effort, and thought. We are saddened that this has occurred and that rather than rewarding Elizabeth for her creativity, someone at Food Network chose to take advantage of her efforts and claim as their own her creative work. We hope Food Network will recognize their error and take steps to address this wrongful misappropriation and make her whole."
So much for the idyllic and innocent world of snow globes and cupcakes. A trial date has not yet been set.