Copyright and Recipes

Since there are so many popular food blogs, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the rules around putting a recipe from a cookbook or other source in your blog post. After all, if you’re blogging about something you made, you’re probably going to whet people’s appetites enough that they want to try the recipe themselves.

I should preface all this by saying that I am not a lawyer, so look on this as a starting point for making your own assessment rather than a legal opinion. Judges will not be impressed when you bring a printout of my post into the courtroom!

Many folks feel that as long as they adequately cite/credit the source, they can republish at will. While it’s certainly somewhat more defensible to give credit when you are copying someone else’s work, doing so is still a violation of copyright law. This suggests that you can’t include recipes in a blog post. However,  recipes are a grey area as far as copyright goes.

The U.S. Copyright Office has this to say about recipes:

Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

That clears it right up for you, doesn’t it? Of course not. Copyright law is pretty darn fuzzy, and according to many lawyers, deliberately so. This leaves room for the courts to interpret the law in specific cases, and those of us trying not to be one of those cases trying to figure out just where we stand. What the preceding paragraph suggest to me is that I can include the list of ingredients in my blog post with no worries whatsoever, but that I’d be better off writing out my own instructions for using them, rather than using those provided by the recipe’s author.

However, this article on FindLaw about recipe copyright says:

Courts are inclined to hold, however, that an individual recipe lacks sufficient creativity to qualify for copyright.

The article goes on to say that the courts have been more likely to protect cookbook authors whose compilations of recipes—cookbooks—have been used by others, but generally have not protected individual recipes. Bad news for cookbook authors and chefs, perhaps, but this does mean that food bloggers wishing to republish single recipes aren’t bound by the same strict rules as others wanting to use copyrighted material.

If you’ve had experience in this area you’d like to share with others, please tell us about it in a comment. I’m sure reality differs from theory in this case, as it does in so many things.

And you should note, though, that this all is U.S. law; if you’re dealing with publishing in another country, you’ll have to do some research to find the rules that apply to you.

Roger Ebert finds his voice

Roger Ebert, profiled in Esquire magazine, keeps a blog at the Chicago Sun-Times that has become his voice now that he has lost his physical one. It’s a moving piece about Ebert’s life today since his lost his voice to cancer and complications that ensued from cancer treatment.

I point the Esquire article out here because of this paragraph about Ebert’s blog:

There are places where Ebert exists as the Ebert he remembers. In 2008, when he was in the middle of his worst battles and wouldn’t be able to make the trip to Champaign-Urbana for Ebertfest—really, his annual spring festival of films he just plain likes—he began writing an online journal. Reading it from its beginning is like watching an Aztec pyramid being built. At first, it’s just a vessel for him to apologize to his fans for not being downstate. The original entries are short updates about his life and health and a few of his heart’s wishes. Postcards and pebbles. They’re followed by a smattering of Welcomes to Cyberspace. But slowly the journal picks up steam, as Ebert’s strength and confidence and audience grow. You are the readers I have dreamed of, he writes. He is emboldened. He begins to write about more than movies; in fact, it sometimes seems as though he’d rather write about anything other than movies. The existence of an afterlife, the beauty of a full bookshelf, his liberalism and atheism and alcoholism, the health-care debate, Darwin, memories of departed friends and fights won and lost—more than five hundred thousand words of inner monologue have poured out of him, five hundred thousand words that probably wouldn’t exist had he kept his other voice. Now some of his entries have thousands of comments, each of which he vets personally and to which he will often respond. It has become his life’s work, building and maintaining this massive monument to written debate—argument is encouraged, so long as it’s civil—and he spends several hours each night reclined in his chair, tending to his online oasis by lamplight. Out there, his voice is still his voice—not a reasonable facsimile of it, but his.

This is blogging at its most powerful and effective, when it connects the blogger with the audience in ways that simply weren’t possible before.

Read the Esquire article, and check out Ebert’s blog.

Blogging For Dummies, 3rd Edition is out!

Blogging for Dummies, 3rd Edition is out in the real world and available to order anytime you’re ready. This edition includes several entirely new chapters, including “Starting a WordPress Blog,” “Starting a Micro Blog,” “Joining the Twitterverse,” and “Diving in to Social Networking.” Shane and I are really excited to know what you think!