Recipe & Copyright

When I was a recipe mailing list listmom, many people were concerned about recipe copyright.

And as a recipe listmom, I did lots of research into the issue.

Here’s what I found:

Copyright exists to protect original, artistic works (think photographs, paintings, poems, plays, books, etc.). As recipes are essentially a description of a technique, they cannot–with certain exceptions–be copyrighted.

  • A set of ingredients cannot be copyrighted.
  • Recipe directions MAY be copyrighted, if they have significant original prose. (…and “Mix all ingredients” is NOT original!)
  • A single recipe may not be copyrighted unless it has significant original prose.
  • A set of recipes (as in a cookbook or magazine) CAN be copyrighted, under collection copyright.

My mother was a proud recipe clipper; many recipes that became family favorites came from magazines and local newspapers. So, my cookbooks will contain recipes from published sources. I believe that it is OK for me to share recipes from any source, so long as I do not publish a collection of recipes from one single source (like a newspaper, blog, or magazine) as one book. Recipes from cookbooks and magazines are definitely a part of my published cookbooks (as mentioned above)…but they are only a part of the book (and in no way are any complete magazines or cookbooks here!).

If you are the original writer or institution responsible for any recipe in my cookbooks and do not want it to be included, please let me know through the Contact Me page, and I will remove your recipe(s). Be clear about which recipes in which book(s) you want me to remove.

I do include a recipe source when known (even if it is something vague like “from Sunset magazine in the 1940s” or “from another mother at Tami’s daycare”). Omission of original source is not deliberate or meant to do an injustice to the original recipe creator. The original source is often simply lost as recipes are shared on the Internet (both on websites and on mailing lists).  I think this even happened in the pre-Internet days. If you were handwriting out a recipe at the request of a neighbor, you may not include the source on your recipe card; you may have no clue where it came from anyway! I simply prefer to openly share recipes so that all may enjoy, even if I share a recipe without the source.

And here’s the official word from the Library of Congress website:

Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. … 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.

If you’d like to see how one respected cooking website handles copyright:

Arielle’s Recipe Archives

If you REALLY want to read lots of information (including court cases and history), read this copyright article at Paleo Flourish.

Finally, here’s a couple of my favorite recipe quotes:

“A recipe does not truly belong to anyone.
It is only a guide, only a skeletal framework. 
You must fill in the flesh according to your nature and desire. 
Your life, your love will bring these words into full creation. 
This cannot be taught. 
So please, cook, love, feel, create.”
–Edward Espee Brown



A recipe is only a theme,
which an intelligent cook can
play each time with a variation.
— Madame Benoit