There is a low-grade but persistent dispute on whether recipes can be protected by copyright law. Unfortunately, the dispute is mostly just lawyers amusing themselves by arguing the semantics of “recipe” and whether, under one sense of the word or another, recipes may be copyrightable. To that end, I concede the following: to the extent that a recipe is a written set of instructions for preparation of listed ingredients into some foodstuff, a recipe may be copyrightable if it contains enough (that is to say, not much) original stylistic flourish. Copyrightable, that is, as a literary work.
But, this is an answer to a semantic question nobody really cares about. A recipe is not a literary work. What is being avoided is the more important question of whether the ‘recipe’ expressed by a particular instance of a written recipe, the recipe qua recipe, can or should be protected as a culinary work. This requires two asking questions: what is the object of a recipe considered as a culinary work and can that object qualify as an original work of authorship in the copyright sense? (more…)