Copyrights and Recipes

A common issue when considering legal issues regarding recipes and copyrights is the contention that recipes are one of the most important parts of cooking. If something is thrown into a pot full of water or ingredients such as herbs, then who holds the rights to the combination, preparation or execution of said recipe? This is actually a highly debatable issue depending on the situation and the law. The issue is often addressed by focusing on the requirement that recipes are protected under the law before a recipe is deemed to be protected under the law. In other words, recipes are one of the most important aspects of cooking and many times are the determining factor for whether or not something can be eaten in an American meal.

The New Pantry Recipes

For example, let’s take a look at the recent kerfuffle between celebrity chefs Paula Dean and Emeril Lagasse. Mr. Dean claimed that Mr. Lagasse copied several of his recipes in his new book, “The New Pantry.” This became a huge controversy because it seemed like celebrity chefs stealing recipes from other cooks in order to make their books more “edgy.” Is it actually plagiarism to take ideas and implement them in a new way? This is a tricky question to answer because often times it is unclear where exactly the line is drawn when it comes to celebrity chefs stealing recipes and/or ideas.

Copyright Protection

Another case that is similar to the above scenario is when there is actual evidence of infringement of copyright protection. Often times, there is just a “feel” or “taste” that a cook has developed by taking specific ingredients and implementing them into their cooking. However, if that particular cook takes what they are doing and implements it in their recipe without proper authorization or copying the recipe in any way, then that cook can actually be guilty of copyright infringement. Many times, in these situations, the offending recipe, which was the original source material for the other recipes, may never be found or discovered. In many cases, the offending recipe is merely hidden away in the back of a cookbook or stored away with no hope of ever being found again.

  • If attribution is not properly practiced in a recipe, a chef can still be found liable for plagiarism even though the offending ingredient(s) were not in the original.
  • The first place to start for a chef who wishes to defend their reputation is the fact that their recipes are usually considered to be the property of the chef, and not the company that markets the product.
  • Therefore, unless the company that markets the product gives proper credit to the chef for their recipes, then the chef may be found liable for patent or copyright infringement due to improper attribution.
  • As long as the original product is not altered in any way (including the addition of an ingredient), then a chef can legally use that recipe.

However, if modifications are made (such as grinding instead of grinding, the omission of a food ingredient, etc), then the chef may be found liable for trademark and plagiarism violations.

Additional Legal Protections

There are also additional legal protections for recipes that are published in cookbooks and magazines. While many traditional publishers do not allow cooks to use their recipes, recipe online services and electronic book publishing services do. For this reason, many chefs find that it is necessary to file legal paperwork with copyright law firm to protect their recipes from being stolen by others. It is always important to discuss ideas freely with writers before using recipes in your recipes, so that you have complete confidence that your recipes will not be used in ways that are unwise and unfair.

There are many ways that chefs can avoid being found liable for patent or plagiarism infringement if they carefully plan their creations and share them among family, friends, and coworkers. Creative bakers and cooks often create their own unique versions of classic recipes. Whether these variations are posted on the Internet, used in a recipe book, or presented in an annual cooking competition, these creative cooks should take care to ensure that the ingredients they use do not infringe upon the original rights to the recipes. In fact, if you are a professional chef, it is likely that you will have many years of experience and expertise in creating delicious recipes, which is why it is so important to carefully protect your recipes and ideas from potential infringement of your intellectual property.


If a professional chef uses your recipe, the proper etiquette requires that you give them credit and a signature for their use. Some chefs may agree to credit their work in a recipe with a short tag that states “top chef / chef’s name”. The signature may also be accompanied by a brief statement such as “copyright @ chefs | recipe” or “recipe adapted from”. If your recipe is published in a cookbook or other publication, you may also want to include a signature and a note that the recipe is licensed for use by others. In this case, the attribution would be: ” Adapted from Florence Dietrich / copyrighted 2021″.

Regardless of how or where your recipes are shared and modified, if your recipes are being altered or changed, you must still obtain a legal release for any changes. In most cases, the publishing of recipes in cookbooks, magazines, and similar publications is covered under fair use. As long as you obtain permission from the copyright holder for any modifications to the published recipe, you should be safe. However, if for some reason, your recipes are not protected by copyrights, it is your responsibility to seek legal counsel to protect your work from being copyrighted.

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