Wednesday, August 31, 2005

[Legal] Copyright on recipes

I thought this pdf might be useful for food bloggers troubled by the ins and outs of recipe copyright as we sometimes are at Tomato. It's for Australia but the principles should apply to most countries. We all are influenced by various chefs and cookbooks and it may clear up some confusion (or make it worse)
The important thing is that you can't copy a recipe from another site or book (unless perhaps its creative commons) without permission. However, if the recipe is generic or very simple it is unlikely that copyright can be infringed.


Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

This subject has been discussed at length on this forum and on IMBB. Sorry I'm being lazy and not providing links.

General consensus is:
- listings of ingredients are not copywrite protected, the directions are.
- as specified in the copywrite info of particular cookbooks, the reprint of one recipe is generally allowed if it is being used to review a cookbook. Check the info on the inside of the book in question though.
- don't be an a$$: attribute your source, also if you are modifying a recipe, go ahead and attribute the original as well. Put yourself in the place of the inspiring recipe writter.
- link to the recipe instead. Most recipes are already online. Also check to see if your recipe is in a book covered in google's print database. If it is, link to that.


Elise said...

I had an interesting conversation with Wendy Seltzer, lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. U.S. Copyright law simply does not protect recipes. It may offer some protection to "substantial literary expression" associated with the recipe. But "methods" and "ideas" are NOT protected by copyright. Directions are NOT protected by copyright unless they are "substantial literary expression". There are only so many ways you can say, "sauté the onions for five minutes." Which is why, recipes directions just are not usually protected.

Remember that copyright law is intended to protect only the "original expression" of ideas, not the ideas themselves. That's what we have patent and trade secret laws for. And this is why companies don't give out their recipes.

You may notice that newspapers print recipes all the time, without any "printed with permission" statement. The reason? They don't need permission. The recipes are not protected.

I had a long talk with Mike Dunne, food editor and writer for the Sacramento Bee, about this whole issue when he interviewed me back in January.

How you introduce the recipe, any writing in addition to the method, and your photographs are protected. Collections of recipes are protected. Your website that has recipes on it is protected.

Here are two useful links with more explanation: and

Nosher & HungryMan said...

Yep. Elise is right-- in the US, recipes aren't subject to copyright protection.

There was a 'literary recipe' case (I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know all the specifics) that dealt with someone illegally republising something from Alice B. Toklas, but it hinged on the recipe being more about writing than direction.

I'm with mcauliflower though that if you do decide to cut and paste, you really should acknowledge the people who took the time to test the recipe out and write it up before you. It's only fair.

Great topic!


Ed said...

I'm with mcauliflower in atttributing the source or linking. And linking is a great way to make new food blogging friends.
i've always ben very careful to ask publishers for permission to use recipes and most are happy for the free publicity.
But I had something interesting happen to me earlier this year. Penguin Books in Australia sent me a cookbook for publicity purposes as I run a really small food mag. I thought it wuld be good publicity for them if I published a recipe and a picture. They wanted to charge me $200. Can you believe it charging money for something that gives them free publicity. Needless to say, I used another book and publisher and paid nothing.

Lori said...

I've often wondered about this issue too. I try out a lot of recipes and post the succesful ones on my blog. I do adapt most of the recipes however, since I don't copy the recipe word for word. I also always indicate which book the recipe came from, as well as the author. I do agree however, that recipes can't be protected.

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I guess this has to be taken care of.