Whose recipe is it anyway?

copyright symbol in seedsRight now, the hedgerows are starting to fill with blackberries. My mind is turning to one of my favourite cakes; a blackberry and apple cake that (remarkably) came from a Weight Watchers recipe book I bought during my phase of paying to be told that fat is fattening.  This is a delicious recipe, really soft and fruity, with almonds and fruit juice taking much of the strain with relatively little fat, flour or sugar.  So should I just copy it out?  Here’s the rub – copyright.

Copyright is something that’s been bugging me in my real life job recently.  I’ve been trying to get up to scratch – and copyright as it relates to recipes seems to be particularly troublesome.  As far as I can make out from the legal info (links below) lists of ingredients cannot be copyrighted.  This makes sense from previous info I’ve read about copyright and phone books.  But wordy instructions can be deemed to be literature and recipes can be copyright (at least in UK law) if they can be demonstrated to be original and the result of labour.  Finally, layout can also be copyright.

Lets put aside layout for now (although this is how many recipe books might make their copyright claim, its the collation and ordering you see); there’s not much posting of recipe facsimiles online.  However, if I were to share with you that favourite blackberry and apple cake recipe, could the Weight Watchers folk claim it was literature? Not if I were to rephrase each instruction.  More interestingly, could they claim it was original?  If so, the author of the recipe must be a genius not to have cribbed great lumps from elsewhere.  Without previous knowledge of baking, did she have to work out how to do it for herself from first principles?

Oh I could tie myself in knots with this one!  What of people who have learned recipes? If I modify a recipe in my head, is that mine?  What of all the celebrity chefs who are producing commercial books full of the things…?

My head hurts and I’ve not even thought about the fact I’ve been talking about Weight Watchers, when ‘Weight Watchers’ is a trademark!  Was life always this complicated?

The fab cake recipe can be found in  ‘Fast and Fabulous’ by Louise Tyler published by Weight Watchers © 1998.

Legal info on copyright (should you wish a heada©he too) can be found at




…oh and don’t rely on me, I’m no lawyer.  I don’t want any writs for problematic legal advice.


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