Important: nothing in this article is legal advice, and you should consult your lawyer for any legal advice. This article is written from the perspective of US copyright law.
One of the questions we get asked frequently by some of our partners is what copyright considerations they should take into account when using third-party recipes. It is a common question among IoT and Health companies as well, so we decided to put together a blog post that will help anyone using third-party recipes to understand the copyright issues from the perspective of US copyright law using two cases – Pinterest and Yummly model.
Pinterest is an image-sharing social networking website and is described as a virtual pinboard to organise and share the ‘things you love’. The site allows individuals to set up an online profile where they can post personal information, upload photographs and pin images sourced from other websites. The material can also be organised in virtual pinboards which are available publicly.
What Are The Copyright Issues?
Pinterest ask users to only pin content where users:
- are the copyright owner of the image
- have permission or a licence from the copyright holder to do so
- or where copyright in the image has expired.
The Responsibility Is With The User
The responsibility for copyright clearance of any image posted to Pinterest remains with the user. The Pinterest terms and conditions and acceptable use policy provide that a user agrees that any content they post will not infringe any third party’s intellectual property rights. Users must not post any information or content they do not have the right to make available under law or contractual relationship.
Yummly is a recipe website and recommendation engine that helps users discover and view recipes written by websites/authors from across the internet. Yummly scraped content from some of the largest sites in the world (including Meredith Media). In March 2017 they were acquired by Whirlpool.
Rumours circulated around 2013 that some large media companies whose content appeared on Yummly considered legal action.
How Yummly Published Content
Yummly published recipe:
- The first few lines from the instructions but normally not the whole instruction block
- Metadata that Yummly generated themselves about the content (e.g. additional tags)
US Copyright Law
US copyright law says: “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.” (Source: Copyright.gov)
In short, simple lists of ingredients and/or methods are not copyrightable. If there are details or descriptions, however, they can be copyrighted. Importantly, Images (without which recipes are not very engaging) are also copyrightable.
How Did The Yummly Case Work?
- Yummly added value back: Yummly linked back to the original content owner’s page which was seen as valuable by many recipe websites and blogs.
- No one bothered to take Yummly to court: Ultimately no media company, recipe website or blogger decided to take Yummly to court (at least according to public records). Most probably decided that the value they received back from Yummly was worth it, could probably not afford to do so, or chose not to for other reasons. Others may never have been aware in the first place.
Summary for large companies
The likelihood of getting sued by a copyright owner for large companies is high. On that basis – a good guideline is to stay withing the limits of the Pinterest model.
Pinterest.com: Pinterest Copyright and Terms on Pinterest.com
Sara F Hawkins Attorney At Law: Pinterest Copyright and How To Avoid Problems
Jisc.ac.uk: Pinterest, image sharing websites and the law
Open Source Cook: Recipes & Copyright Law
Schwimmer Legal: Can Recipes Be Copyrighted?
Other references: The Definitive Guide to Recipes and Copyright