Copyright and Recipes

Since there are so many popular food blogs, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the rules around putting a recipe from a cookbook or other source in your blog post. After all, if you’re blogging about something you made, you’re probably going to whet people’s appetites enough that they want to try the recipe themselves.

I should preface all this by saying that I am not a lawyer, so look on this as a starting point for making your own assessment rather than a legal opinion. Judges will not be impressed when you bring a printout of my post into the courtroom!

Many folks feel that as long as they adequately cite/credit the source, they can republish at will. While it’s certainly somewhat more defensible to give credit when you are copying someone else’s work, doing so is still a violation of copyright law. This suggests that you can’t include recipes in a blog post. However,  recipes are a grey area as far as copyright goes.

The U.S. Copyright Office has this to say about recipes:

Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

That clears it right up for you, doesn’t it? Of course not. Copyright law is pretty darn fuzzy, and according to many lawyers, deliberately so. This leaves room for the courts to interpret the law in specific cases, and those of us trying not to be one of those cases trying to figure out just where we stand. What the preceding paragraph suggest to me is that I can include the list of ingredients in my blog post with no worries whatsoever, but that I’d be better off writing out my own instructions for using them, rather than using those provided by the recipe’s author.

However, this article on FindLaw about recipe copyright says:

Courts are inclined to hold, however, that an individual recipe lacks sufficient creativity to qualify for copyright.

The article goes on to say that the courts have been more likely to protect cookbook authors whose compilations of recipes—cookbooks—have been used by others, but generally have not protected individual recipes. Bad news for cookbook authors and chefs, perhaps, but this does mean that food bloggers wishing to republish single recipes aren’t bound by the same strict rules as others wanting to use copyrighted material.

If you’ve had experience in this area you’d like to share with others, please tell us about it in a comment. I’m sure reality differs from theory in this case, as it does in so many things.

And you should note, though, that this all is U.S. law; if you’re dealing with publishing in another country, you’ll have to do some research to find the rules that apply to you.

 

Comments

 

Susannah,

Thanks for covering a lot of technical aspects in your blog, your posts are really unique in the blogs about blogging world.

Back to the issue, im not a copyright lawyer or anything, but I do believe that our copyright laws are screwed.

Here are some youtube videos to get you thinking more about copyright and copying
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL2FOrx41N0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeTybKL1pM4

Posted by Litigation support dc on Sep 16, 2010.

 

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