I have done my research but the stack exchange provides no further answer that I needed. My research is as follows:

  1. A StackExchange user comments

Selection and ordering of the recipes could be a "compilation" under U.S. law: the creative decision-making in compiling the set of recipes might satisfy copyright's "modicum of creativity" requirement. See 17 USC §103: "The copyright in such [compilation] is independent of [...] any copyright protection in the preexisting material." I'm not 100% sure about that, though. There may be relevant case law; I don't know. Source

  1. 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.Source

I have cooking as a hobby. I would like to put up a site where I share the recipes I used. I sometimes use recipes from the cooking book which obviously copyrighted work. Therefore, I decided what if I 'retell' the process involved when I am cooking the dish myself, producing 'my own' 'cooking instruction'? Of course, I would like my recipe to have the same ingredients as the reference book I am using, else the taste is not going to be the same. Is this allowed? How about international law since I am not in the US.

  • There are lots of people with "secret recipes" but I don't think I've ever heard of anyone (successfully) copyright a recipe.
    – Malekai
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 12:40
  • Yes. Even chefs often comment about stealing certain techniques from other chef. Food channel also often making content based on a certain famous chef’s recipe. The chefs whom I copied work from wouldn’t bother to sue me either. Win for me I guess.
    – user23139
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 11:09

1 Answer 1


Recipe books can be, and often are, protected by copyright. If the individual recipes are by others, this would constitute a collective work or compilation. See this recent answer for more on the rights protected for a collective work.

The selection of which recipes to include would be a creative element, protected by copyright, and could not be copied or closely imitated without permission. However, division into groups by type of dish would be a "natural and obvious" arrangement, and not protected. So would alphabetical or chronological arrangement within a group, or over all. A "non-obvious" order of recipes would however be a protectable element.

An individual recipe may be protected by copyright, but this protects less than one might think. Copyright does not protect facts or methods. This means that the list of ingredients is not protected, nor is the general list of steps of preparation. Only the exact wording of the recipe will be protected.

Creating a new collection of recipes based on several different previously published collections of recipes (whether from the web, books, magazines, or other media) and making one's own selections of which ones to include that is significantly different from any of the previous collections would not violate the collection copyrights of any of the previous collections. If the actual recipes were rewritten so that any creative expression from the originals was not copied, then it seems that no copyright infringement has occurred. Most recipes, after all, are not fully original but are modified from older ones.

There is no set figure for how many recipes could be copied from a given source before this becomes infringement. That would be, if a suit was field, a matter for the judgement of the count as to whether the new book was "based on" the alleged source. The more the list in the new work resembles a particular source, the more like a derivative work it seems and the more likely that it would be held to be an infringement. One could always ask for a license from the older source, to avoid any risk of suit, but it might not be available or the copyright holder might demand an excessive fee. Asking for a license risks drawing attention to the new work, as well, and might cause a holder to file suit who otherwise would not.

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