Recipe Copyright

It’s important to properly attribute the source of recipes and avoid plagiarism, especially when compiling a cookbook for sale. Here’s what I had in my notes about recipe copyright. And yes, every source is attributed.

From the article “Can a Recipe Be Stolen?”
The ethics guidelines of the International Association of Culinary Professionals focus on giving proper attribution to recipes that are published or taught. The association advises using the words “adapted from,” “based on” or “inspired by,” depending on how much a recipe has been revised. The only time a recipe should be printed without attribution, the association contends, is when it has been changed so substantially that it no longer resembles its source.

The Post reports that Rachel Rappaport, a Baltimore teacher, operates a blog called Coconut & Lime in which she shares recipes she has liked. She says her understanding — a common one — is that if she changes two or three ingredients in a recipe, it becomes her own and requires no attribution.

However, this belief is inaccurate, says the author of the page First of all, many people keep the cooking instructions exactly the same as the original recipe, though they may modify the ingredients. What you may not realize is that the cooking instructions are, in fact, what is copyrightable in recipes! So even if you changed all of the ingredients, if you kept the cooking instructions the same, then you have infringed on the copyright.

You cannot copyright a list of ingredients – this is considered a scientific formula. You may be able to copyright the prose that accompanies a recipe as long as it is not considered “typical” in describing the procedures required to complete the recipe. They give an excellent example of typical vs. non-typical on this page.

From discussion of
Under current law, recipes can’t be copyrighted because they are, at their core, a set of instructions. The creative expression that goes into the heading, or the description about how to combine ingredients, etc. – that’s what can conceivably be copyrighted. When you make the recipe, you’re not violating a copyright. When you copy it and publish it as your own, you are.

Worldwide Recipes, a free e-mail recipezine, uses this format of “adapted from” plus a link to the original item to attribute its sources:

All recipes this week are adapted from “Authentic Mexican 20th Anniversary Ed: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico” by Rick Bayless, available from at

As the CD Kitchen site noted, “Recipe copyright is a tricky definition.” Their advice: If you are unsure of the copyright status of a recipe, put the directions into your own words. This way you can easily incorporate any additional modifications you personally made if you tried the recipe. Recipes submitted this way are much more personal and readers value your input from your experience in making this recipe.

The text of the government’s recipe copyright rules and information can be found at: This document is quite brief.


2 thoughts on “Recipe Copyright

  1. Hum…but what do you do if you eat something in a restaurant and figure out how to recreate it in your own kitchen? Technically theft but without any intellectual property violation.

    Shall I tell you about phase one of the Broccoli Flan trials?

  2. As long as you are not publishing the recipe, there should be no concern. If you were going to publish the recipe, a proper attribution would be needed: similar to “Inspired by a dish at Restaurant X. The ingredients and instructions are my own, however.”

Comments are closed.