A Question for the Holidays: Can You Copyright a Recipe?

With the holidays right around the corner, you may be wondering if grandma’s famous apple pie recipe can be protected. Here’s the scoop when it comes to recipes and copyrights.

Under U.S. copyright law, a mere listing of ingredients is not protected. As noted in the seminal copyright case addressing recipes, Publications Intl. v. Meredith, 88 F.3d 473 (7th Cir. 1996):

“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.”

However, this does not mean that copyright protection is unavailable in other circumstances. Where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

However, before running off to copyright that apple pie recipe, its important to note that if you have secret ingredients to a recipe that you do not wish to be revealed, you should not submit your recipe for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records.

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