Can I copyright my recipe?
Believe it or not, this question comes up somewhat often during consultations with prospective copyright clients seeking protection or an understanding of other’s rights. In short, your recipe generally cannot be protected through copyright. U.S. copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Similarly, U.S. copyright law does not protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. 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.
So what about cookbooks? Are they just collections of content outside the scope of copyright protection? Not exactly. Copyright protection may extend to substantial literary expression provided by the cookbook. This literary expression may include a description of the meal, explanation, or illustration, along with a recipe. The cookbook may also include copyrightable materials in photographs showing the prepared recipe, creative arrangement of the book, or other original content.
In short, you can generally share that great guacamole recipe you found without winding up on the defending side of a copyright infringement lawsuit. But, take caution before you start posting pages from cookbooks on social media. Remember that portions of a cookbook that include more than a mere listing of ingredients, such as photographs and content other than the recipe itself, may include copyrightable material.
If you have more questions about copyright, patents, or trademarks, please reach out to me, Scott Nyman, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Topics for these articles are often inspired by actual questions asked by prospective clients.
U.S. Copyright Law (U.S. Code, Title 17) – http://www.copyright.gov/title17/
U.S. Copyright Office – http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf
U.S. Copyright Office – http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html