BERLIN - Denise from Sossenheim does it. "Mmm...," it says under the picture of ochre-yellow lentil soup. David from Berlin does it too. On his Facebook page he shows what looks like the pizza he ordered for lunch with the words "Super Pizza" written underneath the image.

For many young people, photographing their food and posting the pictures online on social networks is simply part of the meal. With so many such pictures on Facebook and Instagram, specialized psychology magazines are writing articles analyzing possible underlying causes of the phenomenon.

But now a Berlin restaurateur has had enough, putting up a sign telling customers not to photograph the food. After someone took a picture of the sign and posted it on the "Notes of Berlin" Facebook page, a debate (online, of course) has erupted.

Can restaurants forbid guests to Instagram their grub? Do they have a legal right to fight publication of such photos on the Internet?

After days of discussion on major German forums, it seems legal specialists have a general consensus, which can be summed up like this: Yes, they do have a right to oppose publication, but only in exceptional cases — those of chefs who are bona fide artists. On basic principle, such chefs are protected by copyright law just as musicians or painters are.

Signature dishes

In general, this applies not only to the original flavors of culinary creations, but in some cases also to the visual presentation — a very special cocktail for example or a spectacularly arranged sushi ensemble. If a star chef’s signature food is involved, then according to copyright law no one including restaurant guests can take pictures without permission.

So it boils down to this: What food on plates in Berlin and elsewhere constitute Art? Here’s where things get dicey. Only someone who has cooked something unique can count on copyright law. And even then it’s not so clear cut, says Cologne-based copyright lawyer Niklas Haberkamm. A judge would only get involved in the case of a chef and what he or she considers illicit photographs of their food in very rare cases — perhaps if it involved the artful presentations of some top Japanese chefs, for example. There have been no cases up to now.

Most foods, "simple, daily, routine presentations without a trace of individuality or force of expression," in the words of legal professors Artur-Axel Wandtke and Winfried Bullinger, would not qualify for protection. So at least from a copyright law point of view, this type of food can be photographed without restriction.

Still, restaurant owners can impose house rules. The legal specialists are clear about that. For example, a restaurant owner can ask his guests to be more polite than what would be legally required. And that’s exactly what the Berlin restaurateur is doing with his sign forbidding guests from photographing the food. Here's his message, er, boiled down: "If you aren’t prepared to treat the chef here like an artist, then please leave."


First world problem ... - Photo: My Awkward Life