Rebecca Charles, owner of the Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC, a seafood place modeled after hundreds of similar restaurants in New England offering similar menus, is suing a former employee (of six years) for copying too closely her restaurant and menu in opening his new place, Ed’s Lobster Bar.
Many parallels here to the design/art/film world…what is mere inspiration versus outright theft? The key question in these kinds of cases for me is: does the person exercise creativity in the appropriation? Did they add something to it instead of just copying or superficially changing it? Clam shacks are everywhere in New England, but an upscale seafood establishment with a premium lobster roll is a unique creative twist on that concept brought to NYC by Charles. An upscale clam shack blocks away from a nearly identical restaurant at which the owner used to work for six years…that seems a bit lame to me, not the work of a creative restaurateur. Who knows how this stuff is going to play out legally; it’s a complex issue with lots of slippery slope potential.
Meg has more thoughts on the issue and Ed Levine weighs in over at Serious Eats with information not found in the NY Times article. It was Ed who first raised the issue about Ed’s Lobster Bar earlier in the month.
Update: I forgot to link to the menus above. Here’s the menu for Pearl Oyster Bar and here’s the menu for Ed’s Lobster Bar. For comparison, here are the menus for a couple of traditional clam shacks: the Clam Box in Ipswich, MA and Woodman’s in Essex, MA.