Can you copyright a food recipe?

Recently the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio addressed the question of whether a copyright can protect food recipes. Tomaydo-Tomahhdo, LLC, et. al. v. Vozary, et. al[1], involved a dispute between former business partners in the restaurant business. The Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendants opened up a competing restaurant and were copying Plaintiffs’ recipes and serving the same dishes and menu as Plaintiffs’ restaurant in violation of the federal Copyright act, among other claims.[2] The Plaintiffs also wrote a recipe book containing the subject recipes and sought copyright protection for the book.[3] The Court found that food recipes themselves are not copyrightable because “recipes are functional directions for achieving a result and are excluded from copyright protection under 17 U.S.C. 102(b).”[4] However, the Court indicated that copyright protection could possibly exist for “the layout and creative expression contained in the book.”[5] The ruling by the District Court is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

One of the bedrock principles of copyright law is that a copyright is meant to protect original expression but not ideas, methods, or facts. Thus, it is likely that ingredients for cooking and cooking directions themselves will not be subject to copyright protection as they will be considered facts and/or methods. However, as indicated by the Northern District of Ohio, copyright protection can exist for original expression contained in a recipe book. To seek protection the book should include something original such as entertainment ideas, anecdotal stories, suggestions for presentation of meal, or wine or alcohol pairing suggestions for a meal. The decision to seek copyright protection should be made after consultation with a licensed attorney. Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding copyright registration or the information in this article.

[1] No. 14-CV-469, 2015 WL 410712 (N.D. Ohio Jan 29. 2015).
[2] Id. at *1.
[3] Id.
[4] Id. at *3.
[5] Id.

Daniel Devine
Santucci Priore, P.L.

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