I am often asked about how copyrights apply to recipes. I see a LOT of recipe blogs that add the copyright symbol and or claim the recipe is copyrighted but that's not necessarily 100% accurate. The answer is actually short and sweet as is the Legislation that applies.
BOTTOM LINE: Even if the recipe originated elsewhere, even if the ingredients are still the same, if the directions and descriptions of your posted recipe are in your own words, it is your recipe.
Though we think of cooking as art, that does not make a recipe Copyrightable.
Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.
Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying it from an existing work.
FL-122, Reviewed November 2010
Why? To the extent there are only so many ways to say "boil water" it is not creative, or therefore protected as copyright. However, if you use a wholesale copy of the recipe directions or description of another person's creative literary expression, this could be interpreted as a violation of copyright.
Copyright Basics Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
- Literary works
- musical works, including any accompanying words
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- pantomimes and choreographic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- sound recordings
- architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”
What Is Not Protected by Copyright? Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:
• Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
• Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
• Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
• Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)