Recipe Copyright Policy & Attribution ...the right way!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Recipe Copyright Policy & Attribution ... the Right Way!

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Most people don't realize that recipes are copyrighted manuscripts and documents that require proper attribution just as other texts do. 

Recipes can be a bit tricky to pin down in terms of attribution because so many recipes are timeless classics, are passed on via word-of-mouth or are simply not written down. All of these instances make it difficult to properly give credit to the recipe's developer.

Websites like Pinterest and Facebook don't help with the problem because many people copy and paste recipes in the body of a post or pin, not citing the blog or website it came from. Even though it's not widely discussed, there is an etiquette to sharing and distributing someone else's recipe. There are legalities to consider and to be aware of for both food bloggers and blog readers. The purpose of this post is to clearly explain what the law is regarding recipe copyright and attribution and to give clear examples of how to properly attribute a recipe.

Do unto others...
Generally speaking, copying someone's work and passing it off as your own, whether intentional or not, is wrong. I've had a few instances where content from Anyonita Nibbles has been copied and pasted into forums or other blog posts and the person has neglected to leave a link to the original post on my blog or to even mention my blog anywhere in the post.

In most of these instances, the occurrence happened as a genuine mistake and not an underhanded attempt to fob my work off as being the work of another person. Although that was the case, it doesn't make it any easier to handle. I put a lot of energy into my posts and they are researched and tested (when applicable) heavily before they're shared with you. When someone copies things and posts them without crediting me, it's as if my hard work doesn't matter.

As a result, it's so important that we credit the author and creator of content that we share. It's the courteous thing to do and it's the right thing to do. When it comes to stealing manuscripts and excerpts from manuscripts without giving proper citation, we have a name for it. We call it plagiarism and it is a punishable offense. That same degree of seriousness should be given to recipes and in, part, it is. The golden rule applies here: if you'd want someone to give you credit for one of your recipes, give credit for the recipes you share that weren't your own creation.

 Recipe copyright law
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the instruction or method section of a recipe may be subject to copyright policy while the ingredients list is not. Here's what the law says:
Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.  
There is a similar idea circulating in the UK and Europe, as explained here:
The key problem for granting copyright protection to recipes is the issue of originality versus the ethos of cookery experimentation and development.  While some recipes may be original in the sense of deriving wholly from the imagination of the chef/creator/author, the vast majority surely are not. Cookery as an art depends upon borrowing and tweaking and fusing the work of others in a way that is inimical to the application of Intellectual Property Rights meant for books music or dramatic works.
Andrew Charlesworth | Legal Expert
Putting the law into practice
A few days ago, I received this question in my email from +Kristen Campbell who blogs at The Road to Domestication:
"If I find a recipe on, say, Pinterest, and I make it, take my own photos of it, and feature it on my blog, what is the correct formatting?

Can I "copy" it, but link it back to where I found it?

Can I only list the ingredients, and must link back to the instructions?

Do I have to change everything?"
 Kristen asks some very good questions that many bloggers want to know the answers to. Here's my advice based on my understanding of the copyright and attribution laws as a former journalist and in light of those pertaining specifically to recipes:

Giving credit when you don't change the ingredients but change the instructions
If you recreate the recipe verbatim and do not change anything in the list of ingredients but do write your own method or instructions that differ from the original, you should be fine with just adding a link to the original source with an "as seen on " somewhere in the post. 

You do not necessarily have to include a link back to the original source if the recipe you're sharing is a classic recipe without a clear author. For instance, say you saw a pin for a grilled cheese sandwich which used two types of cheese, Cheddar and American and was made a common way with butter and a frying pan. If you posted a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich using Cheddar and American cheese made a common way with butter and a frying pan, you wouldn't necessarily need to include a link back to the site because there's nothing overly special about this recipe. Lots of people use a variety of cheese in their grilled cheese sandwiches and no one nowadays can take the credit (realistically) for having created the grilled cheese sandwich.

However, let's say you have seen a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich which includes a tutorial on making your own cheese and includes a chipotle jalapeno paste as well as sprinkling sesame seeds on the bread. If you create this recipe using the exact ingredients, you will need to include a link in the post whether you write your own instructions or not because all of the extra ingredients in the recipe and the use of homemade cheese, have catapulted it from being a classic grilled cheese sandwich recipe to being a specific variation on a classic that the author deserves acknowledgment for.

Giving credit when you don't change the ingredients or the instructions
If you don't change the list of ingredients or the instructions, then you will certainly need to give credit to the author of the original post. Since we know that ingredients cannot be copyrighted but instructions can be, it is best to list just the ingredients and then link to the original source for the instructions.

Giving credit when you have changed the ingredients and the instructions substantially
If you substantially change the ingredients and the method, (changing at least 3 ingredients and writing your own instructions in your own style) then you technically don't have to say that it is an adaptation. You can if you want to, but it's not legally necessary. At this point, the recipe has become your own and it is something entirely different from the original.

Let's say you come across my recipe for my Crock Pot Pumpkin Risotto. My ingredients for this recipe are: butter, olive oil, sage, onion, garlic, verjus, vegetable stock, white wine, arborio rice, roasted pumpkin puree, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese.

Crock Pot Pumpkin Risotto from
If you took those same ingredients and made a risotto on the stove after reading my post, you wouldn't have to link back to my post because the cooking method would be different and the instructions would therefore be different. If you chose to link back to my post, this is when you might use the term "inspired by". In your attribution, you could say: "This pumpkin risotto was inspired by Anyonita Nibbles." With Anyonita Nibbles being the anchor text to link to my recipe.

If you took those same ingredients and made a risotto in the slow cooker after reading my post, and changed the instructions, you wouldn't have to link back to my post, but it would be nice if you did. If you chose to link back, this is when you might use the term "adapted from". In your attribution, you could say: "This crock pot pumpkin risotto was adapted from Anyonita Nibbles." with Anyonita Nibbles being the anchor text to link to my recipe.

If you read my post and left off the olive oil, replaced the sage with tarragon, added in mushrooms, used a different risotto rice such as carnaroli or baldo and left out the verjus, but added in mushroom-infused vinegar or stock, then you wouldn't need to link back to my post because it would be an entirely different recipe. Although your recipe may have been inspired by my original recipe, it is so far removed from my recipe that there's no need to cite the source of your inspiration.

Exceptions to the rules
As always, there are exceptions to the rules. If you've been asked to review a cookbook that will be released soon, there may be restrictions on what you can print on your blog. I have been given press copies of a handful of recipes that will appear in a cookbook due for release. Usually, the instructions that accompany these small packets is that I can reprint any recipe from the packet without written permission.

These recipes have been set aside by the publisher and the agent for the purpose of marketing and can be reprinted in their entirety without fear of violating a copyright policy. In these situations, you always have to  give credit to the author of the recipe (and usually give a link to how the book can be purchased once it is released!).

On the other hand, I have been sent entire books to review without any instruction whatsoever on which recipes can and cannot be reprinted. It is the marketing exec's job to inform you which recipes can be reprinted. If they do not, you would be best to drop them a quick email and ask how you are best to go about sharing the recipe with your readers. They may ask that you only list the ingredients and for the instructions say something along the lines of "you can find the instructions in by which will be released on .

As I say, this tends to vary from publishing house to publishing house, marketing firm to marketing firm. Every time I get a book to review, the rules seem to be slightly different, so it's best to ask up front and get approval before you post anything.

Should food bloggers be posting their own recipes?
Yes. Yes. Yes. If you're a food blogger, the majority of your posts should be for your own recipes. (Unless you have a blog dedicated to remaking other people's recipes and reviewing ie: a Pinterest pins blog or a cookbook blog like +Sarah B's amazing blog Sarah Cooks the Books.) If you don't, however, you really should be pushing yourself come up with your own recipes. Even if it's just changing ingredients until you're confident enough to do your own recipe development. If your readers wanted to read other people's recipes, they'd go to their blogs and websites. They want to see what you have to offer. Don't be afraid to give it to them.

Are all the recipes on Anyonita Nibbles original creations?
95% of all the recipes you will find on Anyonita Nibbles are original creations or significant adaptations. When this isn't the case, I try to link back to the author of the recipe. Occasionally, I hear about an idea for a flavor combination or recipe repeatedly and mull it over for weeks before I come up with something I like. When this is the case, it is very likely that I may have forgotten the original source of my inspiration. When this happens, I usually include a generic disclaimer to say something like "This recipe has been inspired by dozens of similar recipes for that I've seen over the last few months."  But, unless otherwise stated, my recipes are my own. 

But not everyone develops all of their own recipes so, I would just say this one thing: if you didn't write it, give credit to the person who did. It's the most courteous, safest and kindest way to share someone else's work. 

What do you think? How do you give credit when you use someone else's recipe or when you adapt someone else's recipe?

Looking to get your food blog in tip top shape? Be sure to read:
Recipe Copyrighty Policy & Attribution From


  1. Even though I've had this page pinned to my Blog Pinterest board forever, I just this second realized you linked to me from this article. Thank you! <3

    1. Not to worry, you're very welcome, love! :)


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