Recently, the owner of a website that aimed to “fix online recipes” by removing ads and stories apologized and removed the website after receiving complaints via social media. While the website hoped to create an easier reading experience for visitors, the owner acknowledged that a great deal of time, money, and effort go into creating these recipes and the content that accompanies them.
Given the recent controversy, we thought this would be a good time to discuss the copyrightability of recipes. Can you copyright a recipe and, if so, which elements? What about copyright protection for cookbooks?
What Copyright Law Protects
Copyright law protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. So, a work needs to be original, independently created by a human author, and possess at least some minimal degree of creativity while also being set in a sufficiently permanent form.
Recipes easily meet most of these requirements. For instance, they usually satisfy the “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” factor by being recorded in a cookbook or website or even on a piece of paper. They are also independently created by a human author — usually someone’s grandma, it would seem. However, despite meeting most of the requirements, standing alone, recipes are usually not protected by copyright.