Wizzley has just released a new module - the recipe module. The question arises though, can I publish recipes I use that come from a cookbook? It was my first question, although I'm a pretty good cook, I tend to follow or adapt recipes rather than create new ones. So, how does the copyright work with recipes? After all just because someone once published a recipe for chocolate cake or tacos, does that mean every recipe after that has to be different. I checked my existing, extensive, cookbook collection. Nope, plenty of my books seemed to have very similar chocolate cake recipes, same with the healthy stir fry suggestions. So what's the bottom line - is a recipe copyrighted or not? I decided to find out
Copyright and Recipes - How Does It Work?
Now that Wizzley has a recipe module - people may ask - can I publish my favourite recipes - even if they are published elsewhere?
So How Does Copyright on Recipes Work?
I thought I'd use an example of a very simple recipe - one of the first things that most kids learning to bake learn: scones. Here's a simple recipe
Plain Scone Recipe
Taken from the 1914 Edition of Edmonds' Cookbook
Prep time 10 min - Total time 20 min
Ingredients for 1 serving
1 breakfast cup of flour - heaped up • 1 1/2 teaspoons of Edmonds' Baking Powder • 1oz butter or lard • 1 tsp salt • 1 egg
Rub butter (or lard) into ﬂour, then add other dry ingredients, beat egg with little water, mix all into dough. Bake as usual, quick oven. If made without the egg, use milk in place of water.
Image from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tea_and_scones.jpg
I copied and pasted the text of this recipe from an out-of-copyright, public domain edition of a current cookbook. Because the text is public domain I can use it freely - though if that was ALL that was on this page it wouldn't get published because of Wizzley's rules about duplicate content.
I then searched for a "scone recipe" and the following results where the first two results:
The recipes aren't quite the same - the modern day recipe are 3 cups of flour rather than one, and uses milk instead of an egg (though the original does include this variation). Its pretty close though. As you'd expect - baking is just applied chemistry - and to make scones you will need flour, baking powder and either milk or eggs!
Both of the modern recipes do list identical ingrediants.
So is the Food.com recipe an illegal copy? Clearly the original recipe's copyright is with Edmonds surely? Well yes it is. Probably, after all plenty of people were making scones much earler than 1914, but for arguments sake its fairly obvious that Edmonds is more likely to own the copyright than Food.com.
But this is where it gets interesting. From my understanding - there is nothing at all wrong with Food.com having a copy of the same recipe - because the method of preparation / instructions are totally different. And they haven't used Edmonds' photos.
Copyright Law and Recipes
According to the US copyright office US copyright law does NOT protect a "mere listing of ingredients". However copyright does protect: the description and/or description of what to do with said ingredients, also any illustrations or pictures.
So, as I read it, and I am no lawyer:
- You can reproduce a list of ingredients that have been published elsewhere, either on or offline.
- You must include your own description of how to make the recipe. You can't copy the originals.
- You can't use their images or illustrations without approval.
- Collections of recipes are copyright protected. So you can't go through the index of a popular recipe book, recreate each recipe, and publish it as your own.
- You should include images or illustrations, who buys cookbooks without images. You MUST have the right to use those images. The easiest way is to take the photo yourself. You could also you use copyright free images. Or you could use images available for free use (see Free Stock Photos).
- If you know anything about SEO (and if you don't I suggest you read my page SEO for Writers) - don't title your recipe "Aunty Joan's Best Sponge" Instead call it something like "Easiest Sponge Recipe for Beginners" or even "Low-Fat Sponge Recipe" (assuming it is of course).
Recipes on Wizzley
I must say that recipes is one thing I haven't tried online. But I may just do so with the new Wizzley module, why?
Two reasons: first I increasingly find that I don't use my numerous cookbooks - I use my laptop or even my Kindle. Its not totally straightforward using recipes from different countries - but its fun, and easy to google "recipes with squash" rather than trying to find a recipe for a new vegetable from my existing books and their inefficient indexes!
Secondly - Wizzley is using the new "recipe microdata" format. What the heck is that you might ask? Well you have probably already seen it - here's an example of a couple of the results when I googled "Christmas cake recipe"
The image and reviews are automatically parsed from the website. When did you last buy a cookbook with out pictures? Exactly - so make sure you have ORIGINAL images to go with your recipes.
More Links on Copyright and Recipes
Good tips for writers of recipes
eHow on Recipe Copyright Law
Its the description which makes a recipe copyrightable