I am writing a mobile app, and at the heart of it, I need to be able to leverage a large amount of food recipes. If I just scrape the internet and grab all of the recipes that I come across, is this legal? I've seen some different things with regards to whether or not a recipe can be copyrighted, but I'm still not totally clear on that. From what I've gathered, it seems like if a recipe is just a list of ingredients, then it cannot be copyrighted. However, if a recipe contains some sort of proprietary or new technique, then that particular technique could be copyrighted.

I just want to ensure that the method I use to get the recipes is totally legal.


Publications International vs Meredith should provide you with the desired clarity. 17 USC 102(b) says

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work

The court found that

The identification of ingredients necessary for the preparation of each dish is a statement of facts. There is no expressive element in each listing; in other words, the author who wrote down the ingredients for "Curried Turkey and Peanut Salad" was not giving literary expression to his individual creative labors. Instead, he was writing down an idea, namely, the ingredients necessary to the preparation of a particular dish. "No author may copyright facts or ideas. The copyright is limited to those aspects of the work -- termed 'expression' -- that display the stamp of the author's originality."

and finally

Although the inventions of "Swiss 'n' Cheddar Cheeseballs" and "Mediterranean Meatball Salad" were at some time original, there can be no monopoly in the copyright sense in the ideas for producing certain foodstuffs. Nor can there be copyright in the method one might use in preparing and combining the necessary ingredients. Protection for ideas or processes is the purview of patent.

Of course, that precludes copying the author's elegant description of live on the Riviera, which is protected literary work.


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