It Is Not for the Courts to Decide Whether Jessica Seinfeld Stole the Concept of Turnip Cupcakes

Back in 2007, Harper Collins published a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld, wife of Jerry, that was called Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. Shortly thereafter, the Seinfelds were sued by one Missy Chase Lapine, author of The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids Favorite Meals, which had been published six months before Ms. Seinfeld’s book.

Ms. Lapine claimed the Seinfelds had stolen her idea to puree healthy food and put it in meals that your kids would otherwise enjoy. She also pointed out that she had sent her proposal to Harper Collins and never got it back. Mr. Seinfeld, funnyman that he is, then went on David Letterman and called the woman a “wacko” and said his wife was being accused of “vegetable plagiarism.” So Ms. Lapine tacked on a defamation suit.

Yesterday, after nearly two years in court, a federal judge ruled for the Seinfelds, and dismissed the bulk of Ms. Lapine’s claims. Pureeing, it seems, is not protectible. And Ms. Lapine’s claim that it was the idea of pureeing — in advance! — was, alas, too abstract for the court. So the case turned on a comparison of the presentation of the two books, including the colors, icons, and even the relative levels of deception conveyed by the books’ covers. The court wrote:

The figure on The Sneaky Chef cover is extremely obvious about having a secret. In addition to the word “SNEAKY” in the word mark, the chef image is “shushing,” winking and actively hiding a carrot behind her back. The drawings on Deceptively Delicious are more subtle, even in the context of the title suggesting deception. The female figure on the cover is winking; the figure on the spine is shushing. Neither of the figures is holding anything behind her. The cover figure is carrying brownies in front of her. The carrots on the Deceptively Delicious cover are depicted as part of the preparation and are not being actively hidden.

The ruling didn’t exactly vindicate Ms. Seinfeld’s claim that she never read or even heard of Ms. Lapine’s book. The issue of whether Ms. Seinfeld was being sneaky or deceptive in fashioning a cookbook that seems to borrow rather heavily from Ms. Lapine was outside the court’s purview.

The real losers here might be the children. Because both books may have been Times best-seller, avocado puree doesn’t make chocolate pudding taste good.

It Is Not for the Courts to Decide Whether Jessica Seinfeld Stole the Concept of Turnip Cupcakes