Thank you “Cyndin” . In a comment to “Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie” she correctly points out that lists are not protected by copyright.
The US Copyright Website states “Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.”
Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying it from an existing work.
So, we come to the question, what makes a recipe subject to copyright? The definition above gives the answer. Most recipes have directions, descriptions of how to use that list of ingredients, explanations of the process, pictures of the final result, and the best ones give a little bit of the history of the recipe as well. So the mere ingredients of the Cherry Pie would not be subject to copyright but the written description of the process to create it might be. The more creative the telling of the recipe, such as my Mother’s Spamburgers (complete with my sister’s fantastic art work) the more likelihood copyright applies.
The Copyright Office goes on to state that if you want to keep a recipe secret you probably shouldn’t publish it or file a copy with the Copyright Office.
So…….in a sense recipes are like genealogies. Our basic family group sheet is just a list of facts. Births, marriages, deaths, census listings, military service, no matter which fact it is not subject to copyright law. What makes a genealogy subject to copyright? The descriptions, the explanations, the process of combining facts to make a whole, the thought process used to compile the families.
How often have you heard, “I shared my genealogy and they put it online?” While there might be some ethical problems with this, it is usually not a copyright issue. Unless they use “your stories” and include your thought process in making connections they are only posting facts. Like the recipes, if you want to keep it secret you might not want to share.
Be creative. Turn your genealogy into a wonderful story and you will have copyright protection for your work.
But here’s one last thought….a shared recipe resulted in a better Cherry Pie. A shared genealogy might well do the same. You might find new collateral family and they may lead you back to earlier generations, or even better those new found relatives might have stories that they are willing to share with you.