Buying and Selling Recipes & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know

Buying and Selling Recipes & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know

There is a lot of confusion about what you take from someone’s recipe and what you can’t copy so here is a helpful guide to finally put this issue to bed.

This article addresses whether or not there is copyright law protection for recipes, as well as, concrete steps you can take to use the rights you have.


What is a Copyright Law?

It is helpful to know a bit about copyright law.

Whenever you create something important, copyright protection attaches to it. Whether you write a novel or draw a doodle on the back of your receipt, you immediately have copyright protection to your creation.

What are we trying to say is that it doesn’t matter if what you produce has value, you don’t have to register your work with the copyright office, and you don’t have to put that little copyright symbol.

There are times when visiting the copyright office is a good idea and that copyright symbol might help remind some less-experienced people that they shouldn’t be copying your work.

Owning the copyright is something that gives you the right to make copies. It also gives you the right to lease or sell your work, sell these rights, and create derivative works, in other words, get paid well for the work you have created.


Are Recipes Protected by Copyright Law?

In general, recipes are not protected by copyright law, however, there are some exceptions. The Copyright Act has a list of things that are protected by copyright. Recipes are not on the still, however, as we said, there are exceptions and the list isn’t exclusive meaning that things that aren’t on the list could be protected.

The test for copyright protection is originality and the creative portions of the work must be able to be separated from the functional aspects of the work.

Courts have decided that receipts are functional and therefore can’t be copyrighted. Also, the court rules that both the ingredients aren’t protected by copyright because they are process or procedure and copyright doesn’t extend to these things.

When Are Recipes Protected by Copyright Law?

Copyright law doesn’t protect recipes that are mere ingredients. Recipe copyright protection may extend to substantial literary expression, for example, an explanation, description of an illustration that accompanies a formula.

Everyone quotes this statement as it is the law, but the truth is that it is not law. The statement is not that clear, however, it does make sense.

The court stated that they are not providing a general rule explaining whether recipes are or aren’t copyrightable and in certain cases, a recipe could be copyrightable. In other words, a recipe website might be protected under copyright law if there are some creative narratives, for example, how the recipe came about, suggestions of how to decorate the dish better, and suggestions of wine pairings.

Anything that is more than the ingredients database, list of ingredients and the directions are able to be copyrighted. Finally, this is really important and you should consider this legal aspects among the reasons to create a recipe website.


Should You Copy Everyone’s Recipes?

You can try, but you are risking of losing your business.

Customers today can notice when something is original. Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean you should do it. The cooking community has been based on sharing and caring which is why many cooks and chefs think allowing recipes copyright protection would not work. After all, how can you say who came up with the peach pie first?


What Does This Mean for Food Bloggers and Recipe Website Owners?

As a cook, food blogger, and recipe website owner, you can be safe in the knowledge that you can cook whatever you want without usurping anyone’s rights, although that might not be the case if you are a popular cook or blogger.

As a cooking blogger or website owner, you won’t run amiss of any copyright laws if you copy a recipe from another website or blog as long as what you copied was no more than a list of ingredients and directions.

The same goes for selling and buying recipes. You may buy recipes online to use for your website, but who can guarantee you that the recipe is 100% original.

Any additional language someone has in the recipe may be copyrightable.

One thing is for sure – you can’t copy any illustrations and photos accompanying a certain recipe. There have been a few cases of photograph copyright infringement where people have had to settle for a few thousand dollars for using just one photo.

There is an option to use free photos (taken from free stock photography websites) that you can use in your blog posts without breaking any copyright laws, so make sure to implement this into your business strategy.

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