Seven things food bloggers should know about copyright, FTC rules, and ethics

Every creative professional worries that someone may use their work without permission (also known as “stealing,”) and there is plenty of reason to be confused about how copyright laws apply to food blogs. Here’s a quick guide on copyright and a couple of other key legal issues that every food blogger should know.

  1. Copyright: Generally, recipes are “procedures” and lists of ingredients, and thus not covered by U.S. copyright law (17 U.S. Code § 102.)
  2. Narrative: However, the narrative of a recipe may be subject to a copyright, if it has “substantial literary expression,” according to the U.S. Copyright Office. If you have more narrative, you are more likely to protect your work.
  3. Images: Copyright does apply to videos, photographs, and illustrations.
  4. Acknowledgement: If you use another person’s recipe, ask for permission and give credit. Although these steps may not be legally required, think about what you would want others to do to you.
  5. Adaptation: If you create your own recipe based on someone else’s, give credit by saying your recipe was “adapted from” or “inspired by” the originator. For a discussion on this, visit the Food Blog Alliance website.
  6. Privacy: Get permission from people whose images are in photographs that you plan to publish. State laws vary on whether people have a privacy right to protect their images in public places, but this is another situation where you should do what you would want others to do to you.
  7. Disclosure: Federal Trade Commission rules require clear disclosure if a blogger promotes a product or service in exchange for a payment or other compensation. This includes free product samples, restaurant meals, or any other item of value that is not generally available to all consumers. The FTC website has a thorough guide that shows how to do this with as few as three characters. Linking to a separate page with your disclosures is not sufficient. (Bonus: Google’s Louis Gray and artist Jeannine Schafer created a handy set of disclosure icons.)

For a more detailed discussion of how copyright law applies to recipes, visit The Definitive Guide to Recipes and Copyright by Louise Hendon. I consulted Hendon’s article in addition to case law, statutes, and government references when writing this post.

Disclaimer: Although I am an attorney licensed to practice law in Maryland, this blog post is for information purposes only and not intended as legal advice. Consult your own attorney for advice specific to you. 

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