Copyrights, Recipes and Creating Cookbooks

We received an inquiry this week from Mara Ruffino, who asks about copyrights and creating cookbooks. My answer is worth sharing with all of you since last month there was quite an online controversy between a blog and a food website that alleged one of its copyrighted recipes was being compromised. Here is Mara’s question:

Hi Erin,
I am thinking about writing a cookbook and eventually publish it (not just in the family). I have been collecting recipes for a long time; some of them are my own and some of them “have no author,” meaning that I don’t know where I got them from. Therefore, I’m left wondering: how do copyrights work with cookbook recipes?

Great question, Mara! While all of us here at The Cookbook People don’t profess to be legal experts, generally speaking, individual recipes are not typically considered creative works and are not usually protected under copyright law.

However, if you put recipes into a cookbook collection with narrative and photos that are unique to your own life, that distinctive cookbook collection would be considered a creative work and could be copyrighted as a whole.

Here is a link to the U.S. Copyright Office that explains the concept of recipe copyright more fully: recipe copyright.

If some of your collected recipes are not identifiable or come from other cookbooks, and you still want to include them in your own family cookbook, here are a few suggestions to keep you honest and avoid that dreaded P word: plagiarism.

Reproducing recipes from a known cookbook or website:
If you use an exact recipe verbatim, you should give full credit to the cookbook, website or newspaper from which it originated, with specific dates of publication, if possible. If you plan to sell the cookbook for profit or even as a fundraiser, make every effort to get permission to reprint the recipe directly from the publisher/owner. This is called “CYA.”

What if you alter the recipe? Changing a few ingredients here and there to your own tastes essentially changes any printed recipe and creates a new one. But you should always give credit to the source of the new recipe by adding a footnote such as “Inspired by a recipe in Southern Living magazine, 1978,” for example. Part of the joy of developing new recipe ideas is the ability to share them so others can try and enjoy them.

Reproducing recipes from an unidentifiable old clipping:
When you do not know where the recipe came from, adding a simple “Original Source Unknown” as a footnote to the recipe indicates that it came from elsewhere, and that you truthfully do not claim ownership of it (but you do use and enjoy it).

You might check the local newspaper to see if there are similar recipes in their food section database. Often collectors clip recipes from the local newspaper, not paying attention to keep the date or publication name intact with the clipping.

Reproducing hand-written recipes from family members:
Again, assuming you have permission to reprint the family recipes (because everyone knows you are creating a family cookbook and have agreed to help), the best thing to do is to give credit to the family member and add a date on the bottom of the recipe, such as circa 1940. If at all possible, at the end of every original family recipe, insert a copyright symbol and date (© 1940) if you want to claim ownership of the family recipe.

To publish for profit, formally copyright your cookbook:
When you create a cookbook of your own for personal use, it is automatically copyrighted and you do not have to apply for a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office. But if you want to protect your cookbook as your intellectual property so that others cannot profit from it, you must have your cookbook copyrighted. It is proof in a court of law that you are the creator of the cookbook.

Explore more websites regarding copyrights, recipes and creating cookbooks by clicking on the links below:
Copyright recipes
Copyrighting Recipes

As always, Mara, when in doubt, find a legal expert to help and advise you.

Happy cookbook making.


5 Easy Action Steps to Create Cookbooks (and De-clutter Too!)

Create cookbooks and get organized! That’s right. You can create cookbooks and de-clutter at the same time!

Somewhere in the back of your mind you know there is a better way to organize all those recipes printed from the internet or clipped from newspaper food sections that you’ve been stashing away. Maybe you have a box full of them in a garage cupboard waiting to be tested, tried and perhaps tossed one day (I admit I still have one out in the garage). Continue reading

Make Your Own Cookbook & Empower Yourself

When you make your own cookbook, you are all-powerful. You have no one to answer to but yourself. Of course, if you plan to make your own cookbook and give it away, others may offer a few words of “helpful advice.” My answer to them is what my favorite author once said to his critics: “Where were you when the page was blank?”

When you make your own cookbook, you can have high standards. Yours. You have the power to include whatever you wish. Or, not. If you think Aunt Bessie’s lemon pie doesn’t merit a page in your cookbook (because it’s too sweet and the meringue sweats and falls, every time), you don’t have to include it. (If Aunt Bessie wants to make her own cookbook, send her Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software.)Continue reading

Family Cookbook Scrapbooking

As a child, I would love to read the scrapbook of poems that Aunt Sissy (my father’s sister) created from her poetry column in the local newspaper. Eventually, I came to have the scrapbook, and it brings back fond memories whenever I take a moment to reminisce. It is still one of my prized possessions, and one that I would never give away except to a family member.

Making a family recipe cookbook with my Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software is like digital scrapbooking in many ways. You add stories and photos to your recipes and family biographies. With our new feature of being able to print only one recipe per page, you can get even more creative and customize every page by adding your own special touches. Continue reading

Style, Sheets & Standards in Your Family Cookbook Recipes

Queen Elizabeth’s hats or Paris Hilton’s pooch may be considered “style” by some of the fashionista set. (I won’t venture to comment further, lest the wrath of the Internet come my way.) And, “style” is a word often used in music, film, television, art and literature.

For us family recipe cookbook makers, however, “style” is the consistency of how your family recipe cookbook will appear, particularly how the recipes will appear. Recipe consistency makes your cookbook easier to read and understand.Continue reading