Whose Recipes are they Anyway?

Did you know that recipes are not copyrightable?  It is very challenging to copyright a recipe.  That said, I have found that 99.99% of food bloggers and others in the industry give credit where it is due.  On that note, I especially enjoy Lillian’s interpretation of my recipes via video on her site Lillian’s Test Kitchen.  And kudos go to all the other bloggers out there doing what Lillian does day in and day out.

Unfortunately, sometimes things can go awry when it comes to recipe usage.  And here’s an example of that.  A couple of months ago, I received a comment from one of my readers regarding a recipe for gluten free pancakes on my website.

Oh, one odd thing… I used a brand of almond flour that I found at a local health food store called Dowd & Rogers and they had the exact same pancake recipe printed on the back of the bag. The only difference is that they said to mix in a blender (instead of saying the Vitamix brand). Not sure if it means anything but thought Elana may want to know…

That was a message from katie h, one of my readers, and I didn’t take it too seriously.  However, weeks later, when I compared the two recipes I could see right away what she was talking about.

Elana’s Gluten Free Flapjacks Recipe *
2 large eggs
¼ cup agave
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup water
1 ½ cups almond flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
grapeseed oil for sautéing
  1. In a vitamix, combine eggs, agave, vanilla and water and blend on high until smooth
  2. Add almond flour, salt and baking soda and blend again to incorporate dry ingredients into batter
  3. Warm grapeseed oil in a large skillet over medium heat
  4. Pour pancake batter onto skillet
  5. Pancakes will form little bubbles, when bubbles open, flip pancakes over and cook other side
  6. Remove from heat to a plate
  7. Repeat process with remaining batter, adding more oil to skillet as needed

* The funniest part of all this is that this isn’t my best pancake recipe

So, I contacted the parent company, the Neutraceutical Corporation of Dowd & Rogers and this is what I was told:

The law regarding copyrightability of food recipes is very clear: recipes are not copyrightable… In short, your letter alleging copyright protection in a recipe is completely meritless.

This legalese seems to be saying that Dowd & Rogers and their parent company the Neutraceutical Corporation can use as many of my (and your) recipes as they like to sell their products.   And that they do not need to give any of us credit.

I have more than 350 recipes on this site and after receiving a letter such as the above start to wonder which one Dowd & Rogers will help themselves to next.

I’m not a lawyer, however, something seems amiss here.  Wonder if any of you have run into this as well.

Comments

100 responses to “Whose Recipes are they Anyway?”

  1. That is a good tip particularly to those new to the
    blogosphere. Simple but very precise information… Thank you for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  2. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article.
    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return tto read more of your useful info.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.

  3. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html
    I believe you CAN copyright a recipe…just not a list of ingredients…
    Either way it seems pretty unscrupulous and I know I would feel frustrated if my hard work was being ripped off by someone else without at the very least giving me credit…or even asking for permission to use it!

  4. Hi, Elana.
    The person you talked to is wrong. The specific ingredients and amounts are not copyrightable, but the words you use to describe the steps etc. are copyrightable, the same as any other piece of writing. Internet copyrights are a grey area, but if your recipe is published in one of your cookbooks, you shouldn’t have too much trouble enforcing your copyright. However, they did change “a few” words, so this might be enough to be able to claim that they didn’t use your wording.

  5. I know that this doesn’t sound very sympathetic to your hard work creating these AWESOME recipes, but it reminds me of what the ever lovely Mary Ann Williams said about Nelson Mandela taking using her quote about “How we fear our own wonderfulness” (paraphrasing here) in his inaugural speech (politicians can apparently plagiarize at will) and she said she that after she she sat stewing over not getting credit for a few days she realized that we are all just vehicles and that the universe uses us to share important ideas with each other and that is the joy of being human. She said that Mandela could reach an audience that she could not and if her words in his mouth make the world a better place, then who is she to begrudge humanity this gift! So your lovely recipe, Dowd and Rogers fabulous packaging. It’s all good. You are doing a nice job of marketing your blog anyway, so I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff. :)

  6. what they wrote back to you was incredibly insensitive and just plain rude. i would talk to a lawyer anyway. if you get a good enough lawyer, you may very well find a loop hole. they are just trying to intimidate you. i cannot see how they have a right to do that.

  7. Wow, this is wack, Elana… I’m so sorry. At first I thought it might be a coincidentally identical ingredient list, but no… word for word. Dang. We work so hard on our recipes–it’s just like any other art form. No wonder so many restaurants try to keep their secret ingredients secret. It’s so generous of you to share all of your delicious insights with us, and I am so, so grateful for your recipes. Thank you, and I hope you can find some form of recourse.

  8. Thanks for all the feedback everyone, I really appreciate your overwhelming support on this matter and enjoyed hearing all of the perspectives on this as a bigger topic that pertains to all of us.

    I’ll let this issue rest for now so I can continue to create more gluten free recipes for this great community :-) Thanks!

  9. I am so happy I read this post, I was just wondering about this topic? I am new to blogging and I’d like to start reviewing cookbooks on my blog…however, I was unsure about copyright issues? Is it different if a recipe comes from a cookbook?

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