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You Can Use My French Toast

April 5, 2021

My French toast has a smiley face. Feel free to use its photo. I won’t sue you, and that's more than Stockfood America can say.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

The things I learn from litigation never cease to amaze me. This week’s new bit of information is that there is a company that describes itself as “the world’s leading food image agency.”

I had no idea there were any food image agencies, let alone a world leader in food images. You’d think an image licensing company wouldn’t be that specialized.

It turns out though that Stockfood America Inc. does indeed exclusively offer food photos. I’ve looked at their website, and offerings are indeed beautiful and astonishingly varied. You can spend hours browsing. This may be worse than porn.

I found out about this delight in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Arizona by Stockfood against a local cooking school for using a photo of French toast without permission.

Why would a company file a federal lawsuit against a lowly local cooking school over one picture of French toast? Why wouldn’t the cooking school take a picture of its own French toast?

I don’t have definitive answers, but there are clues. You may have noticed one if you’ve visited the Stockfood website: it’s really easy to copy photos there. No watermark. No password requirement. This seems to be an odd sort of business.

Here’s clue number two: Foodstock has filed at least 52 complaints since November 2018 in assorted federal courts for copyright infringement of food photos.

Imagine all the demand letters. If only this company had some way of protecting its copyrights….

You can draw your own conclusion. My conclusion is that I’ve changed my mind about showing you the French toast photo included in the lawsuit.

Instead, here’s a picture of some French toast I made last week. Cooking schools can feel free to use it.

Am I a knee-jerk liberal? Well, am I? You decide because I’m on the fence on this after my reaction to a tale described by a federal judge in New York recently.

Here are the bare bones of the story: A lawyer and his wife one night walked out of Chef’s Restaurant in Buffalo — “home of the world famous spaghetti parm” — and got halfway across a street when they noticed a vehicle without any lights coming at them. They got out of the way but saw the vehicle almost, but not quite, hit two women.

The lawyer’s response at this point was to yell, “Turn your lights on, asshole.”

It turned out that the asshole, or reasonable and safe driver depending on your point of view, was a police officer who cited the lawyer for violating a noise ordinance. The lawyer must have had an impressive voice.

The lawyer pulled out his bar card when asked for ID. The cops were not impressed. Arguments, a criminal proceeding on the noise violation, and federal civil litigation against police with 13 causes of action ensued.

My reaction: there’s no way this lawyer could have been a person of color or other oppressed group member. The situation might have turned out a tad differently.

This is what the lawyer looked like (or at least this is his picture on his law firm’s website):

He does look someone with an impressive voice.

So am I indulging in stereotypes? I don’t think so, but that’s what someone indulging in stereotypes would say.

At least I didn’t say yelling outside (and inside) Italian restaurants ought to be expected. (Except I guess I just did — sorry about that.)

Categories / Op-Ed

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