Can you use other people’s recipes in your bakery? Here is what the copyright law In the united states says about using other people’s recipes for business.

According to the Merriam-Webster, recipe is defined as “A formula for cooking or preparing something to be eaten or drunk: a list of ingredients and a statement of the procedure to be followed in making an item of food or drink.” Basically, a recipe is a mere listing of ingredients. Moreover, as the dictionary definitions states, it’s a standard practice for procedures to accompany recipes. These are often called directions, instructions or methods.

For most of the history of baking and cooking, recipes were shared, transferred, copied and reused without much of a thought to attribution. Most of this is because a lot of things can only be made one or two ways and, it is an issue of chemistry rather than creativity. In recent times, due to mass media, internet and cable television, we have witnessed a massive turnout of celebrity chefs and high profile bakeries.

Can You Use Other People’s Recipe in your Bakery?

Yes, you can use other people’s recipes in your bakery and in every other cooking arrangement. One thing about building a food brand or being a celebrity chef is having a good library of recipes for your products. This includes cookbooks, TV shows, newsletters, websites, blogs and more.

Most especially for celebrity chefs, the pressure to create (or have their staff create) new, original recipes is great, especially considering how competitive the market is. Howbeit, recipe plagiarism has been on the rise, along with the debate about recipe plagiarism itself.

Unfortunately, unlike photos or images, all words don’t carry the same weight when it comes to copyright. Recipes are one of those sectors where copyright law has a number of limitations and may not always cover hard work and time. Indeed, there may be ethical issues when a recipe is copied and not given attribution. And plagiarism is often brought up when people see their recipe used without credit. But plagiarism is not illegal and not part of copyright law.

Facts to Know About Copyright and Recipe In the united states

In terms of recipes and copyright in the U.S., the law is actually very clear and direct. Copyright does not protect recipes, “Known to be mere listings of ingredients,” However, it can, “Extend to substantial literary expression – a description, explanation, or illustration, for example – that accompanies a recipe or formula…”

This goes to show that the basics of a recipe are not copyright protected. The list of ingredients and the actual steps that one takes to complete it are not protectable as they are mere facts and formulas. Nonetheless, the expression of that recipe can be protected, especially if there is a literary description, images, illustrations or other elements along with the recipe.

Simply put: With recipes, it’s the instructions or directions that are potentially copyrightable so long as they meet the criteria of being an original work of authorship and substantial literary expression. So the recipe you use for your fabulous cookies or doughnuts probably doesn’t count as ‘substantial literary expression’ when the directions are something like put all ingredients into a big plate, stir and mix for 2 minutes, pour into a pan and bake.

Indeed, this can be very confusing for many bakers and chefs. To a chef, the creativity of the recipe is in the recipe itself, not the description of it. Instead, the law makes it clear that it is that description and expression of that creativity that is protectable, not the actual recipe.

Although this doesn’t mean that you can’t protect your recipe. Many of the most iconic recipes on the planet are protected as trade secrets. That includes the KFC “11 Herbs and Spices” and, of course, the Coca Cola recipe.

But have it in mind that trade secret protection requires that you make strategic faith effort to safeguard the secret and, thus, publishing it in a book or divulging it on your site would obviously eliminate that protection. Howbeit, if you publish a recipe, so long as another person use no language and images from your work, they can legally copy it, use it in their bakery or cook shows, put it on their site and claim it as their own.

Although they or anyone involved will never face repercussions in a court of law, there are other penalties for being accused of recipe plagiarism. However, while the law may not protect the creativity of a new recipe, the cooking community certainly does.

In the United States, while the copyright law might not extend protection to recipes by themselves, putting the food industry in the same camp as the fashion industry, the food community has been quick to address issues of detected plagiarism when it can.

Nonetheless, there are challenges in doing this. First, there are countless recipes for which there is only one or two ways to bake or cook them and all new recipes are simple derivatives of that. Aside from prior art that are often times discovered, independent creation is very common when it comes to recipes.


Copyright in terms of recipes, just like it was stated above, only relates to the instructions, not the ingredient list. But that doesn’t mean anyone is free to copy a recipe and tweak the instructions slightly and call it new or original.

Although copyright isn’t an issue, it may be a matter of ethics and common courtesy to mention the cookbook, website or blog where a recipe originated, or indicate that your recipe is based on, adapted from or inspired by a particular source.