I’ve written many times about how individual recipes can’t be copyrighted here in the US. But did you realize that you can defend a copyright if parts of your recipe contain “substantial literary expression?”
What exactly is that, and why should you bother?
“Substantial literary expression” establishes the information in a recipe as yours. That could be just as important as copyright, when it comes to theft.
Let me explain. US copyright law defines substantial literary expression as:
“a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.”
The point is to write information easily identified as belonging to you, based on what you say in the headnote (introduction) or method (instructions). Here’s another definition from the findings of a recipe-based lawsuit between Meredith Corp. and Publications International, Ltd.:
“There are cookbooks in which the authors lace their directions for producing dishes with musings about the spiritual nature of cooking or reminiscences they associate with the wafting odors of certain dishes in various stages of preparation. Cooking experts may include in a recipe suggestions for presentation, advice on wines to go with the meal, or hints on place settings and appropriate music. In other cases, recipes may be accompanied by tales of their historical or ethnic origin.”
This is not a complete list of what constitutes “substantial literary expression.” The point is to make the recipe your own. You could also include stories about your family and friends, specific serving suggestions, an explanation of a technique, or a million other things that customize a recipe as yours.So even if the thief stripped out your headnote, if you added “substantial literary expression” to the method, your recipe could be copyrightable.
As to the question of whether you should bother adding these layers, the answer is yes. Not only does adding this kind of information make the recipe identifiable, it adds reader interest.
If you’re a blogger, though, do you think people will still steal your recipes if you add these details? Elise Bauer experienced just this situation when someone scraped her content into an e-book. Does the idea that your recipes might be copyrightable give you hope that people will stop taking them?
(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
You might also like: