retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times reports that The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that taste cannot be copyrighted, but rather “is ‘an idea,’ rather than an ‘expression of an original intellectual creation’ … And something that cannot be defined precisely cannot be copyrighted, it ruled.”

Here’s how the Times describes the case leading up to the decision:

“Levola Hengelo, a Dutch food producer, had sued Smilde Foods, another Dutch manufacturer, for infringing its copyright over the taste of a cheese spread. The Levola product, known as Heks’nkaas, or Witches Cheese, is made of cream cheese and herbs and vegetables including parsley, leek and garlic. Smilde’s herbed cheese dip, which contained many of the same ingredients, was called Witte Wievenkaas, a name that also makes reference to witches. It is now sold as Wilde Wietze Dip.

“Levola argued that the taste of food, like literary, scientific or artistic works, can be copyrighted. The company cited a 2006 case involving Lancôme, the cosmetics company, that had accepted in principle that the scent of a perfume could be eligible for copyright protection.

“Smilde responded that taste is subjective — and that makes it ineligible for copyright.”

The EU court agreed: “Unlike, for example, a literary, pictorial, cinematographic or musical work, which is a precise and objective expression, the taste of a food product will be identified essentially on the basis of taste sensations and experiences, which are subjective and variable.”

I guess I understand this decision … my father-in-law used to say, “Where taste is concerned, there is no dispute.” But I’m not sure I’d agree that a great meal is unlike great art. It isn’t just that a great meal, like great art, can be enormously distinctive and pleasurable. But I’d also argue that literary, pictorial, cinematographic or musical works are not necessarily precise and objective expressions. In fact, what often makes them unique is that people see and respond to them differently.

Great food - from a fabulous nine-course feast to a single, spectacular beignet - can be an Eye-Opening expression of art.
KC's View: