Can I publish other source's recipes on my website?
September 30, 2009 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Can I publish other source's recipes on my website?

I'm currently in the process of creating a drink recipe website where users can create accounts and add recipes to my database. The site is currently under construction but when it launches I want there to be a reasonable amount of drink recipes already populated so it's not a drink recipe site without any recipes.

My question is this; is it legal for me to use some type of source, such as a book/website and use their ingredient list, measurement list, and step by step directions to populate my site or would something like this need to be in my own words?

I'm sure using a source's ingredients and measurements would be ok as these aren't really up to interpretation but I'm worried about using the exact phrasing the author uses for the directions on what to do with those ingredients/measurements.

I should note that this website will be a for-profit site and that the sites data and myself will be residing in California.

Also, once I open the site up for users to add to the list of recipes what could stop them from adding recipes from one of these sources, and if it's illegal could I be held liable?
posted by whtthehecker to Law & Government (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
you can't copyright recipes - but you can copyright the descriptions. you should reword those parts.
posted by nadawi at 12:12 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: cite
posted by nadawi at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2009

You may find this article and the resources listed at the bottom relevant: Recipe Attribution (by the Food Blog Alliance).
posted by geeky at 12:29 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to names, titles, short phrases, ideas, systems, or methods.

The way I have heard it phrased in a previous question, a rote listing of steps like "Mix dry ingredients" is not copyrighted, but "literary" descriptions, like "Mix dry ingredients, until the spicy smell of Christmas wafts in the air" would be protected.
posted by muddgirl at 12:53 PM on September 30, 2009

Well, I've seen places that DID use recipes. They gave attribution, and that is usually sufficient. As long as you're not gaining monetarily, or claiming the works as your own, most people are ok with that.

You will want to contact the copyright holder and ask their permission, then you attribute it by SAYING, "Used with permission of xxx". Or "Copyright xxx, used with permission".
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 2:47 PM on September 30, 2009

IANAL but as a web developer I've done a lot of reading about copyright law and I think nadawi and muddgirl are correct.

As far as Jinx's suggestion about asking the copyright owner's permission, the question and problem is whether they are really the copyright holder you need to get permission from. They might have gotten the recipe from their mother, uncle, an ancestor, friend or some old cookbook.
posted by 14580 at 3:38 PM on September 30, 2009

Recipes can't be copyrighted so the above responses are correct. Copyright does not apply to ideas or methods, only to an actual form of expression of that idea or method. So you can't copyright the actual steps to make a dish, but the form, design, type, specific wording, etc. that appear in a recipe book are.
posted by bradbane at 4:36 PM on September 30, 2009

Recipes can, however, be patented. But it's unlikely that any recipes you're using are.

(Hint: avoid KFC, Coca-Cola, or any multinational corporation. Good advice for avoiding lawsuits in general, too.)
posted by rokusan at 6:23 PM on September 30, 2009

Best answer: Publications Intl. v. Meredith, 88 F.3d 473 (7th Cir. 1996) regarding infringement of a recipe book:

"The identification of ingredients necessary for the preparation of each dish is a statement of facts. There is no expressive element in each listing; in other words, the author who wrote down the ingredients for "Curried Turkey and Peanut Salad" was not giving literary expression to his individual creative labors. Instead, he was writing down an idea, namely, the ingredients necessary to the preparation of a particular dish. "[N]o author may copyright facts or ideas. The copyright is limited to those aspects of the work--termed 'expression'--that display the stamp of the author's originality." Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 547, 105 S.Ct. at 2223. We do not view the functional listing of ingredients as original within the meaning of the Copyright Act.

Nor does Meredith's compilation copyright in DISCOVER DANNON extend to facts contained within that compilation. As the Supreme Court stated in Feist: Facts, whether alone or as part of a compilation, are not original and therefore may not be copyrighted. A factual compilation is eligible for copyright if it features an original selection or arrangement of facts, but the copyright is limited to the particular selection or arrangement. In no event may copyrights extend to the facts themselves. Feist, 499 U.S. at 350-51, 111 S.Ct. at 1290. The lists of ingredients lack the requisite element of originality and are without the scope of copyright. The Copyright Office itself has stated that "mere listing[s] of ingredients or contents" are not copyrightable. 37 C.F.R. s 202.1. The next question is whether the directions for combining these ingredients may warrant copyright protection.

The DISCOVER DANNON recipes' directions for preparing the assorted dishes fall squarely within the class of subject matter specifically excluded from copyright protection by 17 U.S.C. s 102(b). Webster's defines a recipe as: a set of instructions for making something ... a formula for cooking or preparing something to be eaten or drunk: a list of ingredients and a statement of the procedure to be followed in making an item of food or drink ... a method of procedure for doing or attaining something. WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY (Merriam-Webster 1986). The recipes at issue here describe a procedure by which the reader may produce many dishes featuring Dannon yogurt. As such, they are excluded from copyright protection as either a "procedure, process, [or] system." 17 U.S.C. s 102(b).

Meredith fashioned processes for producing appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts. Although the inventions of "Swiss 'n' Cheddar Cheeseballs" and "Mediterranean Meatball Salad" were at some time original, there can be no monopoly in the copyright sense in the ideas for producing certain foodstuffs.

Nor can there be copyright in the method one might use in preparing and combining the necessary ingredients. Protection for ideas or processes is the purview of patent. The order and manner in which Meredith presents the recipes are part and parcel of the copyright in the compilation, but that is as far as it goes. As Professor Nimmer states: This conclusion [i.e., that recipes are copyrightable] seems doubtful because the content of recipes are clearly dictated by functional considerations, and therefore may be said to lack the required element of originality, even though the combination of ingredients contained in the recipes may be original in a noncopyright sense. 1 MELVILLE B. NIMMER & DAVID NIMMER, NIMMER ON COPYRIGHT s 2.18[I], at 2- 204.25-.26 (May 1996)."

Now, the ethics (as opposed to legality) of printing recipes without attribution is a whole 'nother issue.
posted by webhund at 7:36 PM on September 30, 2009

« Older Popcorn balls that even your dentist would eat   |   The license plate game doesn't work when all the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.