Copyrights and Recipes

I see that recipes and copyrights have been brought up again, so I thought I would give my basic spiel which I hope explains it all. I think I’ve covered this before, but I’m too lazy to look it up in the archives.

Lists of ingredients are not protected by copyright. Explanation of techniques are not restricted either, as a rule. Literary license in the form of prose is, however, guarded by copyright. Let me give an example.

Part I:

I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as they bring a bright smile to my face. They are especially good with a cold glass of milk.

Part II:

  • 2 slices of white bread
  • 3 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 Tablespoons strawberry Jelly

Part III:

With a knife, spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread. With the same knife, spread the jelly on the other side of bread. Press together the two slices of bread, with the peanut butter and jelly facing each other.

Here’s the deal. Part I is under copyright. An entity cannot reproduce Part I (even as bad as it is) without attribution.

Part II is not protected by copyright. Period. Underline three times.

Part III is where it gets a bit iffy. In the case of the above, Part III is most likely not sheltered by copyright. There’s not much in the form of literary expression. Instead, it’s essentially a formula that uses the list of ingredients. Such formulas are not covered by copyright.

However, if there was a fair amount of prose interspersed within the formula, then it can be protected by copyright. If Part III was dressed up with memories of making the sandwiches, and tied together with a personal anecdote or two then no one could legally use it without permission.


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