We’ve all asked when on a food blogger’s site, “Why can’t you just give me the recipe and not your life story?” Many have listened to this complaint and added a much (to me) valued “Jump to Recipe” button on the top. But I am here to defend all those stories that I often skip. Why? Because that is the blogger’s intellectual property. The photos and the story – not the recipe. A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law, nor is the underlying process for making the wonderous dish that you are planning for supper. Directions that are clear and concise have a hard time, too. Those directions have hit the bar of “substantial literary expression” to be protected by copyright. Generally, courts have found that recipes are wholly factual and functional, and, therefore, they are not eligible for copyright.
Think that’s easy? Try writing the recipe for chicken noodle soup and call it a substantial literary expression with a straight face. It is a feat beyond me. Then, realize someone else can use your same list of ingredients and process without penalty because in order to claim copyright infringement, the blogger has to show the other copied “constituent elements of the work that are original.” In other words, something more than the ingredients and the underlying process. Specifically, when looking at the ability to protect recipes, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated, “The recipes involved in this case comprise the lists of required ingredients and the directions for combining them to achieve the final products. The recipes contain no expressive elaboration upon either of these functional components, as opposed to recipes that might spice up functional directives by weaving in creative narrative.” Faced with that hurdle and the court’s advice to “spice up” the narrative, I bet you’d start adding in stories about eating that soup with your mom on a winter day home from school, too.
And if you do start telling that story on a blog, not only is that story your copyrighted material, it can help with your search engine optimization and engagement by readers who aren’t just jumping to the recipe. Plus, it turns out that food blogging is hard. They do this because they love it, and they love it for those stories. Lots of them started because they love writing AND cooking. So let’s take a moment (maybe right before we hit the Jump button) and be glad that they are taking the time and effort to create these creative works so we can make breakfast for the week.