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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?

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    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, 2020 at 14:43
  • Plagiarism is an ethical concept, but that term is often used when the correct legal term is "copyright infringement". Dec 9, 2022 at 19:21

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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.

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  • So a list of ingredients is not protected, but directions are? Sep 21, 2020 at 21:50
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    Also, I'd love to read more about your last para, do you have a link? Sep 21, 2020 at 21:51
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Many, perhaps most, recipes have no copyright protection at all. More specifically, the list of ingredients, and the steps to follow are all facts, and as such are not protected by copyright. Elaborations and creative wording of the directions, and discussion of the reasons for the steps, or of the effect of the steps, is likely to be protected, and may not be copied without permission, unless an exception to copyright applies.

In US law, 17 USC 102(b) provides that:

(b) 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 US Copyright Office Circular #33: "Works Not Protected by Copyright" states on page 2:

Recipes

A recipe is a statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making a dish of food. A mere listing of ingredients or contents, or a simple set of directions, is uncopyrightable. As a result, the Office cannot register recipes consisting of a set of ingredients and a process for preparing a dish. In contrast, a recipe that creatively explains or depicts how or why to perform a particular activity may be copyrightable. A registration for a recipe may cover the written description or explanation of a process that appears in the work, as well as any photographs or illustrations that are owned by the applicant. However, the registration will not cover the list of ingredients that appear in each recipe, the underlying process for making the dish, or the resulting dish itself. The registration will also not cover the activities described in the work that are procedures, processes, or methods of operation, which are not subject to copyright protection.

The law in other countries is similar on this point.,

Thus, a video showing the preparation of a dish following a copyrighted recipe is not a copyright infringement, and no permission from the copyright owner is required. Indeed legally even attribution is not required, although many would hold that it is ethically essential. Reading the text of the recipe aloud during the video, or displaying the text of the recipe, might be an infringement if the text includes protectable expression, as it might well do. Permission might be required to read or display the text.

Original discussion of the recipe, its merits and problems, and its relation to other recipes, would not be an infringement, and no permission would be needed for such discussion.

Non-US Law

"Protection of a recipe" an article on Copyright.EU says:

... it has been recognised that cooking recipes cannot be protected by copyright since they “do not in themselves constitute an intellectual work”, but rather a know-how, which is similar to an idea (TGI Paris, 10 July 1974).

On the other hand, the text of a recipe could be protected if it is original. But this protection is not sufficient since it does not concern the content of the recipe: it focuses on the form of the recipe text.

The article "Intellectual Property Rights in Recipes and Food" by Bird & Bird states:

Whilst a recipe could constitute a literary work for the purposes of the [UK] CDPA 1988, this would only protect the written recipe itself from being republished and it would not prohibit someone from following the recipe and making the dish (in other words, the manifestation of the recipe is not infringement).

The article "Protecting recipes using intellectual property law" states:

In theory, a recipe should be able to benefit from this protection. However, French and European case law has long refused to grant copyright protection to recipes. In a judgment dated 30 September 1997, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris considered that “although recipes may be protected in their literary expression, they do not in themselves constitute a work of the mind.” It is therefore possible to obtain protection for the text of the recipe if it is original, for example for a cookery book, but not for the recipe as such.

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