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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Recipe Copyright Confusion, What's the law in Canada?


On recipes & Copyright law

I think I'm pretty competent in the kitchen. I cook "from scratch" dinners for my family 99% of the time; I love to cook, I love to try out and tinker with new recipes. Yet I blog about cooking fairly seldom, and the reason is I worry about copyright issues.

I have a recipe box full of dozens of handprinted index cards, many of which I wrote down so many years ago that I no longer remember where I got them from.  Others were handed down to me by a friend or family member, but again I don't really know where they originated. Take for example one of my hubby's favourite dishes, my mother-in-laws iconic meatloaf. I have the recipe carefully copied down and labelled as "Dianne's Meatloaf".  But the truth is I don't know what cookbook it might have been taken out of, or where she originally got the recipe from. Can I blog about my mother-in-law's meatloaf? Can I share the recipe not knowing where it originated?  As much as I'd love to share this and other family favourites with my readers, I worry about the legal ramifications and so have passed on posting.

However, I happened to run into an article discussing how recipes are not covered under copyright and I started wondering. Wondering what the rules are in Canada. Wondering if I could be sharing recipes on my website after all.  I started searching around on Google and reading up on it, but it's all a bit complex and murky, particularly when it comes to Canadian Copyright law.

According to the US Copyright office:
"A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. "

Under US law a method or formula can not be copyrighted. So basically the concept or idea of the recipe can't be protected under copyright, but the words used to express that idea can.  Thus I can share the list of ingredients from a recipe, but shouldn't copy the directions or flavour text. From everything I've read it sounds like you're in the clear if you create a similar recipe using your own words.

But that's for the US. What about Canadian copyright law? Much like under US law, ideas and facts are not copyrightable but literary works are. So here's the question: is a recipe an idea, or is it an artistic creation? Where does it fall under Canadian copyright law?  I've scoured through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website, reading page after page of dull legalese, and I can't find any solid answer.

Strictly from an ethical stance, I am strongly against content theft and would never consider, for example, cutting and pasting a recipe from another website. However I find myself thinking again about those old cards in my recipe box, and well the line is a little less clear.

What are your thoughts? Is posting a recipe to a blog acceptable? I see people doing it all the time. Is it that they just don't care about copyright issues? Or is it that they understand the copyright law better than I do? What about if a recipe is taken directly from a cookbook, or from another website? What if attribution is given? What if attribution isn't given? Where is the line?
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Hi, I'm , a Canadian stay at home mom to two rambunctious little girls.
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