I want to take other people's published recipes and then make a video out of them. So, say I find a recipe on some food blog or a different YouTube video, I want to take the recipe and record my own video of me making it, and upload it to YouTube.

My understanding from the research I've done (see here and here) is that lists of ingredients are in the public domain (which I presume includes the amounts, and not just the ingredient names, but maybe I'm not understanding that properly), and while one may be able to copyright the instructions if they're significantly creative enough, it's unlikely, since that too is not creative enough to be warrant copyright protection.

Therefore, it seems safe legally to take someone else's recipe, even I were able to monetize the video, but is it plagiarism (not necessarily copyright) to not cite where I got the recipe from?

I'm also not asking about the real-word, "will they actually come after me," but rather the hypothetical, "could they." That is, would it technically be plagiarism, even if no one would want to take action against it.

Lastly, less of a legal question, is it conventionally understood to be unethical or just bad practice not to cite recipes, even if it isn't illegal?

  • Plagiarism is an ethical concept, not a legal one, so this really should be directed to Philosophy SE. Technically, the law doesn't know plagiarism.
    – user6726
    Apr 21 '20 at 14:43

Recipes themselves are not protectable as intellectual property and a meal made with a recipe is, therefore, not a derivative work (because the meal is not derivative of the particular expression of the recipe which is entitled to protection). The precise expression of a recipe on a printed page is protectable, but that is all. Ideally, you wouldn't read or display the source of the recipe in your video.

As the U.S. Copyright Registrar (a division of the Library of Congress) explains:

How do I protect my recipe?

A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. Note that if you have secret ingredients to a recipe that you do not wish to be revealed, you should not submit your recipe for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records. See Circular 33, Works Not Protected by Copyright.

Fashion designs have the same status.

This is basically a legacy of a time when cooking and fashion design was done primarily at home by women in their households in the non-monetary economy and upper middle class men who served a judges and legislators didn't consider these ideas significant or economically meaningful enough to warrant legal protection.

  • So a list of ingredients is not protected, but directions are? Sep 21 '20 at 21:50
  • Also, I'd love to read more about your last para, do you have a link? Sep 21 '20 at 21:51

Technically copyright infringement

The procedure spelled out in an original recipe, even if simple, will meet the threshold of originality for copyright. Of course, many recipes are from 'time immemorial' and are not original even if written into a new cookbook - although the selection and arrangement of that cookbook is a copyrighted work.

So, assuming you are recreating one recipe (not an entire cookbook) and that recipe is original and has copyright protection then you are prima facie breaching that copyright by creating a derivative work (the video) from the original literary work (the recipe). In essence, this is no different from making a movie out of a copyrighted screenplay - you need the author's permission or a fair use/dealing defence.

Citing or otherwise is not a legal issue. Plagiarism is an academic concept, not a legal one.

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