Lunch in Lenoir

If you’re still doing the TarGram challenge, then today you’re thinking about lunch for #LunchInLenoir. While Anne and I love lunch in Lenoir (primarily Mainstreet) as much as the next Tarheel, we also consider how copyright law might be implicated when eating lunch.

Recipes are a weird beast in copyright law. First, we have to break the recipe into its components. The United States Patent and Copyright best explains how to dissect the recipe. There are three parts: a list of ingredients, the process to make the recipe, and then final product. The US Copyright Office has officially stated that the ingredients list is not copyrightable. Many think that the list is not copyrightable because a list of ingredients is a list of facts (things you need to make the recipe), and facts are not copyrightable. However, the instructions on how to combine the recipe may qualify for copyright protection, if there is enough creative expression in the recipe.

The threshold is for originality in a recipe fairly high. Generally, courts have viewed recipes as a process and do not offer copyright protection to the description, unless another author has copied the recipe word for word. The threshold for whether a recipe is copyrightable is originality. So “Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees” is probably not copyrightable because there are only a few ways to express it, and it is not original enough. However, “I love bananas and always add an extra banana to the batter for banana bread” may be copyrightable. Finally, if you take a picture of your finished banana bread, that will qualify for copyright protection.

The USPTO mentions that it is possible for a recipe to qualify for patent protection, although that threshold is also really high. Finally, you can always protect the recipe through a trade secret by keeping the recipe a secret – think Grandma’s secret sauce or Coca Cola. So, while you may not be able to protect your recipe through copyright law, that doesn’t mean you can’t protect your recipe at all by law.

If you have any questions about copyright and recipes or anything else, talk to us in the Scholarly Communications Office! If you’re asking about a recipe, make sure to bring us a taste. We don’t have any food allergies!