Christ on a $9 Cracker
January 03, 2006
The Amalafoodie household received its first Cease & Desist letter this weekend.
Blah blah intellectual-property cakes, here's my take on the whole mess, because it's apparently ignited the INDIGNANT FURY OF THE INTERNETS and every damn DC metro, dining and/or legal blog out there seems to be talking about it today and y'all, I WAS THERE. I GOT ME A T-SHIRT.
The long-drawn-out-and-self-aggrandizing version: Jason and I went out for dinner at a well-regarded little neighborhood place called Buck's Fishing & Camping. The chef has a reputation for both brilliance and...well, let's just say she can be a little prickly.
But hi, Jason and I are restaurant groupies. We love eating out. We love adventurous cooking and I would personally detail the cars and fetch the dry-cleaning of several DC-area chefs whom I absolutely idolize. Jason generally only writes about restaurants he really likes (because he won't write a bad review based on one visit, and we just don't have the time or money to make repeated trips to a place that sucked the first time), and he always credits the food photos and usually leaves a card behind to let the restaurant know that a write-up is forthcoming so they can contact him with any concerns.
I call Jason an Insufferable Food Snob all the time, and I mean it in the nicest way possible.
Basically: if there are two people who get what chefs are trying to do and would put up with all kinds of egotistical bullshit, it's us.
But if you harass us over dessert because you heard we snapped pictures with a fucking CAMERA PHONE, and then follow that up with a letter threatening to sue us for damages and whatever the fuck else?
No. We will not put up with that kind of egotistical bullshit, no matter how awesome my fish was.
And sadly, it was incredibly awesome. And pretty!
(Well, pretty for something that still had its dead fish head and dead fish eyes still attached.)
Before this entry turns into a full-on Crazy Person Rant, let me start at the beginning.
Friday night, we go to the restaurant. We take the baby. We drive around the block 200 sizillion frillion times to make sure the baby is asleep and will not disturb anyone. We order wine, appetizers, entrees and desserts. We rack up a decent-sized check because hell, we don't have to pay a babysitter and I enjoy giving the Internet evidence that no, I DON'T love my baby very much and put him in daycare just so I can spend $8 on a fucking wedge of iceberg lettuce.
We take four measly pictures of our plates with Jason's camera phone.
Halfway through dessert, the chef comes over and says that she heard we've been taking pictures of "her food."
We smile, a little worried that Jason's been recognized, but play dumb anyway. (NOT because we were trying to hide anything, but because sometimes when Jason gets recognized at a restaurant, the chef or host or waiter tries to comp something, which we don't want and it's awkward and blah blah integrity-cakes.)
And then it just got strange. She asked us why we were taking pictures, did we ask if we could take pictures, and did we know that we couldn't use the pictures without her permission, because she didn't want them ending up on (eyeroll) the Internet. We thought she was kidding around, even though her tone was kind of...well, prickly.
Now here's the sticking point: Legally speaking (and OH, how much I know now about laws governing photography in public and private areas), Buck's has every right to prohibit photos of the food and interior of the restaurant. Of course they do! It's their place! Their rules!
BUT! They kind of have to TELL PEOPLE about their policy. A sign in a prominent location. A footnote on the menu. Because most reasonable people assume that photography (for whatever purpose, be it a group photo of a birthday celebration or a photo for a personal website) inside a restaurant is okay.
Buck's did not do or have any of these things, despite what the C&D letter says. We were never told that we couldn't take pictures, just that we needed the chef's permission before we could use them.
Which, nope. Sorry. Photos that have already been taken are the sole property of the photographer. You do not have the right to dictate their use or confiscate our film or demand that we erase photos. (Note: She did not go that far. She simply asserted that we were not allowed to use the pictures without her permission, and she wasn't giving it to us, but gee, she hoped we enjoyed our meal.)
The co-owner of Buck's spoke with us afterwards, free dessert wine in hand, and tried to smooth things over. (To say that we [mostly I] looked VISIBLY ANNOYED AND PISSED OFF would be an understatment. Who likes to be scolded like a kid passing notes in homeroom over your $9 piece of cake?)
Once my red-hot embarrassment kind of simmered down and my hearing returned, I realized he was talking about the online DC food scene, the message boards and the blogs and what-have-you. I think he mentioned DCFoodies or some other blog and before I could stop myself I blurted out that yeah, his chef just bitched out DCFoodies, how you like THEM heirloom tomatoes with fresh buffalo mozzarella drizzled in basil oil?
He told us we didn't have to pay attention to the chef because he owned the place too, implying that it was totally okay to post the stupid photos if we wanted. We felt better. We paid our hefty bill, left a generous tip and went home. Noah never opened an eyeball.
Saturday morning, Jason wrote a very nice and balanced review of our meal (his entree DID suck, sorry) with just a casual mention of the weird encounter with the chef at the end. By the time he was done, the Cease & Desist was in his email inbox, rife with spelling and grammatical errors, and accusing us of disregarding a stated no-photography policy and insinuating that the restaurant would take us to court if any of the "improper photographs" appeared online.
Well! That's nice.
Anyway, the whole thing? So stupid. And avoidable. If the chef had nicely expressed her concerns (like say, she just doesn't like amateur photos being published) at the restaurant instead of trying to bully us with sweeping declarations of what we were "allowed" to do with our own photos, Jason gladly would have obliged. Like I said, he doesn't want to bash restaurants or create ill-will with local chefs. The fact that we were told something different by Buck's co-owner created some confusion, and the Cease & Desist letter was just a fucking slap in the face, and should insult any restaurant patron who naively thinks that the food they order and pay for is theirs to do whatever they fucking please with instead of "propriatary [sic] and confidential."
Look. I get it. The food is her art. She's protective of it. And while I personally didn't see anything super artistic about a piece of chocolate cake with a scoop of whipped cream on top, art IS subjective in all its forms.
Threatening your customers (bloggers or not) with legal action, is complete and utter bullshit. The end.
I'm telling the amalah.com audience all this because 1) I like to think you care about the minutae of my fabulous, below-the-law life, 2) all the other cool blogs are talking about it, and 3) there are a hell of a lot of you, and I like seeing you riled up, because you're so PRETTY when you're all riled up.
Plus, if we get sued, I won't be able to afford daycare or quit my job ever and Noah will have to live in a cool wet sack under a highway overpass.
Y'all, my mom did NOT get my permission before taking this photo with her camera phone. I'm totally going to sue her uppity ass.