Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie – A Copyright Puzzle

Great-Grandma made the best cherry pie in town.  No one was sure of the secret ingredients in that recipe, but everywhere she went she was asked to bring “the pie.” Everyone begged her for the recipe, but she shared with no one.  It remained hidden in her recipe box to the day she died.

Great-Grandma died without a will in 1940.  Her only child Grandma inherited everything she had, including the recipe box.  Grandma now became the hit of the party circuit, the provider of “the pie.”  Grandma died in 1965 and left everything she had to her two children Mom and Uncle Harry.  They easily divided the treasures of her life….except the Cherry Pie recipe.  That they shared.  Uncle Harry, a wonderful cook, received a copy of the original card and the recipe box.  Mom received the original card.  Both now became the hit of every party with their contributions of the pie.  In fact, Uncle Harry even made an improvement to the original, adding something special to the crust.File:Cherry-Pie-Slice.jpg

Uncle Harry died in 1990 and willed the recipe box and all it’s contents to his daughter, Jill.  Mom died in 1994 and left her estate to be divided in 6 parts.  One part went to each of her 5 surviving children and 1 part was divided 2/3 to her deceased son’s daughter and 1/3 to his widow.  They now were all entitled to the recipe.

So, in 2011 Jill submitted the recipe to a contest for the best Cherry Pie and won a $5000 prize.  One of the requirements to the submission was that the recipe be previously unpublished and that company holding the contest would be able to highlight the recipe in it’s next cookbook.  Mom’s daughter, Jackie, was dismayed as she was in the process of writing a cookbook called “Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie.”  Each claimed the other didn’t have the right to publish the recipe.

So the question is, who own’s the copyright to Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie Recipe?

Well…. Jackie by virtue of her mother’s will would be entitled to a 1/12 share (1/6 of 1/2) in the Cherry Pie recipe.  Her siblings would also have 1/12 share each, her niece 1/24 and her sister in law 1/36).  Jill on the other hand, was bequeathed her father’s entire share and thus would be entitled to a 1/2 share of the copyright to Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie recipe.  But….Great-Grandma died in 1940.  The copyright to unpublished works extends 70 years beyond the death of the creator.  It is 2011 and therefore the Cherry Pie Recipe is no longer subject to copyright.  It is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN!   Jackie can publish her book without any complications of copyright from the company that held the pie contest, hoping for an exclusive.

Jill, in fact,  submitted  Uncle Harry’s improved recipe.  Uncle Harry did not die until 1990 so his changed recipe is subject to copyright until 2060.  Jill owned that copyright and can happily enjoy the $5000 she won and the company does have an exclusive on the changed recipe.  Jill shared her bounty by having a big party for her cousins and their extended families.

The preceding account is fictional.  No such Cherry Pie recipe has come down the generations from my Great-Grandma.  However, my daughter is the hit of every holiday gathering  with her wonderful Cherry Pie.  Don’t ask her for the recipe, she’s not telling and it’s likely to be another 130 years before it hits the public domain!

Happy Holidays!!!



Filed under Copyright, Genealogy

2 responses to “Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie – A Copyright Puzzle

  1. Except for the fact that recipes can’t be copyrighted. Only the text surrounding them can be.

  2. Pingback: Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie: An entertaining look at copyright issues | B&F: Jewish Genealogy and More


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