WASHINGTON •Blogger Elizabeth LaBau's holiday cupcake recipe was so popular that it crashed her food blog.
Ms LaBau, who runs SugarHero.com, had figured out a way to make edible snow-globe cupcakes by coating small balloons in sheets of gelatin and letting them harden into translucent domes.
After a lot of trial and error, she posted the recipe on her website in late 2014. It went viral, garnering about 740,000 shares on Facebook - the traffic caused her blog to go dark temporarily - and tripling her site's income that month. She would go on to describe it as her "signature recipe".
She continued to ride on the recipe's success last Christmas, posting a tutorial video showing how to make the cupcakes. Like her original post, the video was a major success for the do-it-yourself dessert maven, drawing millions of views in December alone.
Then along came Food Network with a video of its own, she says in a new lawsuit filed in federal court in California.
About three weeks after she published her tutorial, she alleges, Food Network produced a how-to video on snow-globe cupcakes that was so similar that it constituted copyright infringement.
Her lawsuit calls Food Network's minute-long, made-for-Facebook video a "shot-for-shot" theft of hers. The camera angles are the same, she says, along with the colours, lighting, text and other elements.
Food Network "wilfully and intentionally sought to appropriate" her work "for their own profit without bearing the cost", the lawsuit reads. "The time commitment of recipe development and the cost of ingredients, coupled with the time cost of photographing and videoing the cupcakes, was a substantial investment for Plaintiff, an individual who runs a website based solely on her own work."
A Food Network spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Because recipes cannot (for the most part) be copyrighted, the lawsuit focuses specifically on the video that helped popularise the snow-globe cupcakes. It calls the video a "proprietary work" and says Food Network's version infringes on multiple copyrightable aspects of it.
Ms LaBau says her blog began as a passion project that bloomed into a full-time job "through years of hard work and late nights".
So when Food Network posted its video, it was not just taking her ideas, but also hurting her brand and depriving her of income, she alleges.
"Competing with numerous corporate food websites, often backed by large companies with deep pockets, is very difficult as an individual and requires endless work," the lawsuit reads.
It cites several awards and accolades that SugarHero has won in recent years, including being named best baking blog by Better Homes And Gardens magazine in 2015.
Ms LaBau says Food Network's video caused her "severe distress", distracting her from the normal business of running her blog, which features recipes for hundreds of holiday-themed desserts and other sweets.
She says she contacted Food Network, asking it to remove the video or at least give her credit and attribution for her work, but to no avail. Her lawsuit seeks as much as US$150,000 (S$207,000) in damages per copyright infringement.
The two videos follow the same format as many cooking tutorials found on food websites, with each step in the recipe demonstrated in short, user-friendly segments, as upbeat music plays in the background.
Food Network's version shows more professional-level studio production, but some moments in the footage are strikingly similar to those in Ms LaBau's video.
Whether those similarities constitute copyright infringement is up to a federal judge to decide.