Q&A: AFJ member Kimberly Jackson interviews Joy R. Butler

I've always had an affinity for literature and linguine so joining AFJ was a perfect fit. Although being a member is great, I wanted to immerse myself a bit more in the AFJ community and thought writing for its blog would be a great opportunity to do so. In anticipation of this Wednesday's Sound Bites webinar Food Writers in the Legal Jungle, AFJ Executive Director, Amanda C. Miller, and I worked together to interview our special guest Joy R. Butler.

1)      How did you get started in the legal field? I’ve been practicing law since 1992. I’ve always had an interest in creative endeavors and performing arts. One way to merge my interest in law and my interest in the creative was to do work in copyright, trademark and related issues. A lot of my clients are involved in the media and creative industries so most of my work is transactional; I do a lot of contracts and advisory work. I might help them in all aspects of putting together a project; getting and protecting the idea; hiring people to bring that idea to fruition; entering into contracts for the financing, distribution and production of the idea; and protecting any creative work they may generate.

2)     How often are you approached by food writers seeking legal counsel or advice? I’m very often approached by companies and writers in publishing to protect their rights. With respect to the food writers, there have been a handful of cookbook writers and food bloggers who ask for my counsel.

3)     Do you think you haven’t been approached by more because they don’t recognize they need the counsel yet? A lot of people who are very creative in nature may not realize the business issues or want to be bothered by them until they absolutely have to be.  Counsel on certain legal issues may not be readily available to them which is the reason behind some of the books I write. They provide background on certain legal issues to help others identify whether they need to seek additional legal help.

4)     Why is it important to focus not only on the creative side of food writing but the legal side as well? It is important to ensure that anything they do on the creative edge isn’t violating anyone else’s work, copyright or trademark.

5)     What are the most common legal roadblocks/ pitfalls for food writers? Ensuring no one infringes on your copyright nor you in regards to someone else. Making sure all your original writing and illustrations are protected. When writers collaborate with photographers or illustrators on a cookbook, for example, they should always know how to sort through who owns what. Many bloggers encounter “scraping” of their site and need counsel on how to handle the duplication of their content.

6)     Other than recipes, what is considered intellectual property for a food writer? The big thing for a writer is text and visual artwork that you use in your book. Any original, creative work can be protected by copyright including text, illustrations, images, any original creation you write down or record such as transcribed interviews or cookbooks in draft or final form. If you wrote it down and it is original, it is eligible for copyright protection.

7)     Do you consider yourself a foodie? I’m not sure what the definition of foodie is but if it is someone who enjoys eating, likes to cook, likes to try new food experiences, both as a culinary preparer and as a person who frequents restaurants, then yes, I’d consider myself a foodie!

8)     The food scene is pretty hot right now in DC. What’s your favorite restaurant? With respect to restaurants, I thought that I probably do need to go out more because I can’t really name a favorite! I go to a lot of events that are frequently held in restaurants and that tends to be when I encounter new restaurants; I don’t usually choose them on my own. I also like to be very aware of what I’m eating. I’m definitely the person who stands in the grocery aisle for 10 minutes reading labels to make sure I get the yogurt with the least amount of fat. I like to know how my food is prepared and you don’t always know that when you walk into a restaurant. So unless I’m going to an event or some sort of networking get-together, you’re probably going to see me, when I’m not in my own kitchen cooking, at the salad bar in Whole Foods.

9)   Alex Guarnaschelli, one of my favorite chefs and judges on Chopped, says that food is heavily tied to memory; what’s your fondest food memory? When it comes to equating distinct foods with distinct memories, feelings and moods, I don’t have anything original to say. I remember going out as a kid with my dad to lunch and I’d always have a grilled cheese sandwich. I don’t eat them as much these days but they always give me that nostalgic feeling.

10)   If you could only eat one thing every day, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Well it depends whether or not having to eat one thing every day for the rest of my life comes with a guarantee that I’m not going to expire from an early death from coronary failure or blocked artery. If I had that guarantee than it would probably be pecan pie or sweet potato pie :)

Joy R. Butler hosts the next AFJ webinar, "Food Writers in the Legal Jungle," on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Email afj.amanda@gmail.com to RSVP today. 

Kimberly Jackson joined AFJ in 2017. Follow her culinary adventures at eatandbemerrydc and on Instagram @eatandbemerrydc