Artist Nook: The Food Blogger’s Copyright Pickle
Note: Hosting a food blog invites not only food porn gawkers, but also a multitude of legal issues. So, for the sake of clarity, this article simply focuses on the copyrightability of recipes and the small steps a food blogger may take to protect their creations on their website.
Food bloggers may find themselves in a predicament. Unlike personal diary or news format blogs, foodies who post recipes are not entitled to the same copyright protection as their counterparts. One may ask why?
A chef or baker can slave away for hours in a kitchen, attempting countless variations of a dish or dessert. They may also substantially invest in the ingredients and tools, and even forego their waste line. All this effort is exerted so they may finally perfect the exact ratios for their product, and then post it on their blog for the world to see their beautiful creation.
After such labor, the blogger-chef may feel entitled to prevent other sneaky cooks from reposting their recipe. Unfortunately, there is nothing to prevent a sous-chef or another admiring blogger from doing so. Sadly, chefs cannot seek protection for their ideas. This may be as depressing as a deflated soufflé.
The simple answer to the question “why?” is that recipes are not copyrightable. Essentially, a recipe contains two sections: a list of ingredients and the directions for preparation. Both the list and the directions are merely facts. As the Supreme Court stated in Feist: “Facts, whether alone or a part of a compilation, are not original and therefore may not be copyrighted.” Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).
Despite a blogger-chef’s belief that they made a unique recipe that the world has never seen before, the recipe is still not original in terms of copyright law. It’s easier to swallow this concept if you think of it in terms of discovering a recipe and not inventing one. It is highly doubtful that any person now living invented the chocolate chip cookie. One may claim that they have the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe, but that still does not qualify it as original.
But there are ways around this stumbling block – if a foodie-blogger is creative enough they can protect their artistic creations, to an extent.1. Add some expressive elements.
Step out of the recipe box and add some pizzazz to your descriptions! Spice it up with some character, voice, hyperbole, and other literary devices that you learned in high school English class, because copyright protection may extend to substantial literary expression. This means, discuss your inspiration for creating the recipe – a friend, a childhood memory, discovering a healthy alternative to grandma’s traditional recipe. Talk about the occasion you made the recipe for – a birthday party, a baby shower, emotional eating! Add your opinion on the recipe results such as, “I should add more honey next time around,” or “be sure to make a double batch because these cookies are perfect!” One could learn from the wit and style of Shutterbean, whose author consistently offers an inventive narration of her recipe making.2. Take quality, original photos of your culinary creations and watermark them.
It’s hard to stumble upon a food blogger who is not also an amateur photographer. After all, what is the point of talking about food if there are no mouth-watering photos? An audience needs more to go off of than verbal descriptions.
Kath Eats Real Food is a perfect illustration of this point. She adds an indiscrete logo to the bottom corner of most of her photos. This method is a polite way to demand respect for your work and put viewers on notice that you own the copyright to your photos. No law requires a copyright notice for the protection to be in effect, but it is a beneficial measure.3. License your photos.
If you’re worried about photo poaching, despite a watermark placement, consider licensing the photographs. Check out blogger Eva Kosmas Flores for a great example. She provides a link to StockFood.com where a viewer is given the option to pay for their use of a photo. Instead of just stealing a photo, an admiring viewer may purchase a limited license. The cost varies according to type of desired use, whether it is for advertising, consumer product placement, or an editorial.4. Ask for attribution.
There is no specific guideline for attribution in the blogging world. It is mostly a courtesy concept – Thou Shalt Attribute to Receive Attribution. So, if you post a recipe, kindly ask that if anyone recycles the recipe on their own blog to provide a link back to where they found it. This act should be reciprocal. Thus, if you adapt your glazed donut recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, then mention the source of your idea with a handy link. After all, linking is the currency of the Internet.But remember: Recipes are for sharing!
There’s a valid reason that the Copyright Office says you can’t have a monopoly on recipes. If you really have an amazing recipe for chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, why would you deprive the world of this goodness? So go ahead and share that sinful bliss!