This is the first in a continuing series of posts about how to keep it legal while blogging.
When someone copies a recipe word for word and fails to provide credit for the source it is pretty easy to accuse them of not providing the proper attribution. The line becomes blurred with a tweak here and there. When does a recipe become your own? What is the proper way to credit a source?
Well, let me see if I can help you figure it out.
From a legal standpoint, the expression or language of a recipe is what is copyrighted, not the ingredients or method.
From a blogger standpoint, it is generally appropriate to acknowledge the source of your adaptation or inspiration whether it is protected by copyright law or not. To be honest, I’m not sure that I have complied to date with what I have set forth below. When I started out I had no idea how I should credit a recipe. Now that I know, my intention is to comply from here on out.
Let’s start with the basics. A copyright protects “original works of authorship.” A “work of authorship” includes literary, written, dramatic, artistic, musical and certain other types of works. Copyrights are different from patents, which protect inventions. Copyrights are different from trademarks, which identify the source of goods and services, i.e logos and brand names.
The U. S. Copyright Office states the following:
Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.
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.
In general, the copyright belongs to the creator of the work. If the work is a joint work, then the law assumes that each creator owns an equal share in the copyright unless there is a signed, written agreement that states otherwise. A copyright owner has the right to produce the copyrighted work in copies. A copyright owner can also license the use of the copyright in his or her works. Basically, the copyright owner retains ownership but lets someone else use the works.
Registration of the copyright is not required for protection. The copyright exists as soon as the work is created; however, you must register your copyright in order to sue someone for copyright infringement.
Is your head spinning yet? Have your eyes glazed over? Take a deep breath and keep reading. Here is how I interpret what is detailed above.
There are basically three different ways to note the source of a recipe which are as follows:
1.) “Adapted from” – where you are only making a few changes to the recipe. The recipe is recognizable as having been created by the copyright holder.
2.) “Inspired by” – where you make more than a few changes and the recipe becomes unrecognizable but you used their recipe in the creative process.
3.) Your own creation – no citation needed.
Play it safe. Just because it is not illegal doesn’t mean it is okay. If you want to establish respect among your peers provide credit where credit is due. As David Lebovitz pointed out in his extensive post about this issue, “When in doubt, always give attribution.” Cite your source and link back to the original work.
Let me know what you think about my interpretation. Do you feel bloggers should do more to give proper attribution or do you feel bloggers are too sensitive about how recipes are attributed?
Recipe Attribution: (Food Blog Alliance)
Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours: (Will Write for Food)
Know Your Digital Rights – Recipe Copyright: (Saving for Someday)
Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship.