Recipes: Shared And Improved On For Years… Now Targeted By Copyright Cops?
from the using-this-recipe-may dept
Earlier this year, we noted that intellectual property issues were moving into the restaurant business, as one restaurant owner accused another of stealing both a restaurant concept and recipes from her restaurant. Last year we also had a story about some chefs trying to get additional copyright protection for their meals, which was a silly request. However, it seems like intellectual property concerns continue to flood the food space, with the firm Attributor, who sets themselves up as something of an online policing system for copyright infringement, has come out with a report about just how common it is for recipes to get passed around the web and posted by multiple people, potentially violating someone’s copyrights. As the US Copyright Office makes (somewhat) clear, you cannot copyright a list of ingredients — but you can copyright “substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions.” In other words, the explanation of what to do with the ingredients could be subject to copyright.
But the real question is whether or not this is really an issue. Attributor comes up with a bunch of made up numbers about how much this is “costing” certain sites, but that’s not true. As with any bogus copyright “loss” stats, the numbers are both made up and exaggerated — and have nothing to do with “losses.” Rather, they represent dollars that the copyright owner failed to capture, meaning that it’s a marketing problem, not a legal one. The story notes that top recipe sites like Epicurious and Allrecipes are losing out on traffic, but it fails to explain how. I use Epicurious quite a bit, and I go to the site not just because I trust it to have good recipes, but because of the additional features Epicurious provides — including user ratings and reviews. In other words, even with the same recipes being available all over (and, perhaps infringing on copyrights) Epicurious has effectively bypassed this legal issue through smart business practices: building in additional features that make the site valuable enough to me that it’s better than just searching out any random recipe online.
Furthermore, it seems especially silly to worry about copyrights in the recipe space. The purpose of copyrights (broken record, I know) is to encourage the creation of content. It is quite difficult to believe that anyone out there believes there is insufficient efforts in creating new recipes. In other words, without enforcing copyrights, there is already sufficient incentives for people to continually create new, interesting and delicious recipes. Historically, recipes have always been a type of content that was eagerly and willingly shared and passed around — and it has always been common for people to create “derivative works” in modifying and adjusting the ingredients and the instructions to try to improve upon the product. To suddenly bring copyright protections into the space seems both a rejection of that history as well as against the entire purpose of copyrights.