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If You Instagram Your Lunch in Germany You Might Get Sued

According to a recent report in German newspaper Die Welt, photographing dishes when dining out is an infringement of copyright law and may even land you in court.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
August 14, 2015, 12:21pm
Photo via Flickr user Markus Spiering

How do you like to do it?

Maybe you find it easiest to go in from above, or with the help of some tweezers. Perhaps triangular shapes really do it for you, or you like to get the whole thing over and done with and move on to the wine.

Whatever your preferred method of food photography, it all leads to a similar conclusion: social media feeds teaming with static dinners, artfully arranged cocktails, "Sunday afternoon bakes!!," and #cleaneating smoothies. We've become incapable of eating any semi-photogenic foodstuff without banking a few food porn shots for the 'gram first.

But in Germany, elbowing your dining partner as you find the best shot of the courgette fritters isn't just annoying, it could also be illegal.

READ MORE: This Instagram Chef Is Using Hot Pockets to Troll Tweezer Food

According to a recent report in German newspaper Die Welt, photographing someone's dishes without their permission is an infringement of copyright law and may land you in court.

The newspaper points out that due to a ruling by Germany's Federal Court of Justice in 2013, copyright protections now apply to specifically arranged food. This means that the pic of the gazpacho starter you had last night is actually the artistic property of the chef, whose permission you need to seek before snapping.

"An elaborately arranged dish in a restaurant can be a copyright-protected work," corporate law firm partner Dr. Niklas Haberkamm explained to Die Welt. "In such a case, the creator of the work has the right to decide where and to what extent the work can be reproduced."

Regardless of whether the photo you take is for commercial purposes or merely to incite a little Instagram envy, the newspaper notes that the aim of copyright protection is to protect an individual creation, and any photographer could be in breach.

However, as English-language news site The Local points out, whether the meal you're snapping is considered "art" depends on how fancy its design. No one's going to sue you for posting a photo of your friend clasping a polystyrene tray of chips with curry sauce dribbling down her chin but photographing that Michelin-starred dinner for posterity could get you into trouble.

While Die Welt notes that Germany has no recorded cases of chefs nor restaurateurs filing copyright infringement complaints, settlements for such a case could reach thousands of Euros, if taken to court.

"If you want to be absolutely on the safe side, you should probably ask the host or the chef," German legal website advised in a post on its website.

READ MORE: Why All of That Instagram Food Porn Is Shot From Above

Copyright infringement or not, amateur food photography has long been an artfully filtered thorn in chefs' sides. David Chang famously banned photography of dishes at his Ko restaurant (and simultaneously had every New York foodie clamouring to find out what they looked like) and Martin Burge, head chef at the Michelin-starred Whatley Manor restaurant in Malmesbury introduced a camera ban after an "astonishingly brash" diner produced an SLR mid-meal and upset the regulars.

So, even if the long arm of the law doesn't come a-callin' for your deconstructed Black Forest gateaux Instagrams, you could still be guilty of bad manners.