I recently listened to – and enjoyed – the audiobook version of the memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. It’s the story of Julie Powell, an aspiring actress who works in an unfulfilling temp. secretary job and who struggles for some direction in her life as she approaches her 30th birthday.
Powell takes on the project of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her hope is to use cooking as a therapeutic method that will save her soul and rescue her life. She shares her progress in a blog which soon becomes wildly popular and generates an offer from Little, Brown and Company to write a book about the project. Powell’s Julie & Julia has sold over 100,000 copies.
Recipe Copyright Issues in Julie & Julia
It’s a professional hazard of entertainment attorneys to contemplate rights issues as we watch movies, read books, and view other means of media. The first rights question occurring to the reader might be the use of Julia Child’s recipes in Julie Powell’s blog and book.
Actually, I don’t see a copyright issue with respect to Powell's use of the recipes. Processes and procedures are not copyrightable. A recipe that simply lists ingredients and basic cooking directions qualifies as a process or procedure and is not copyrightable.
In Julie and Julia, Julie Powell doesn’t recite many of the Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipes verbatim but talks about making the recipes in general and her missteps along the way. Julie may recite a sentence or two as she chronicles her journey through the recipes. She talks about her professional frustrations, marital woes, relationships with her family and friends. Even if Child’s individual recipes were copyrightable, Powell’s use of the recipes seems to be a good candidate for fair use.
The Case of Deceptively Delicious versus The Sneaky Chef
copyright protection for recipes is also why I am surprised by the pending
lawsuit concerning Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively
Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. In the book, Jessica Seinfeld, the wife of
comedian Jerry Seinfeld, explains how to hide nutritious vegetables in
traditional recipes so children will eat them. Missy Chase Lapine is the author of a similar cookbook, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for
Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals. Earlier this month, Lapine
filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Seinfeld.
Even if Seinfeld “lifted” the concept of hiding vegetables in food, Seinfeld would not be guilty of infringing Lapine’s work. Again, that’s because copyright does not protect concepts, processes, and procedures. Hiding vegetables in food so children will eat them is a non-copyrightable concept or process. In order for copyright infringement to apply, Seinfeld would have needed to copy some of Lapine’s recipes almost verbatim. I haven’t yet seen a copy of either book so I can’t comment on how similar Seinfeld’s recipes are to those of Lapine.
So When Are Recipes Copyrightable?
Note that I said a recipe that simply lists ingredients and basic cooking directions is not copyrightable. It is possible for a recipe to be copyrightable. If you weave expressive elements into the recipe, it stands a much better chance of being copyrightable. These elements might be suggestions for presentation, advice on wines, accompaniments, music to complete the meal, and information on the origin of the dish. For example, Sheilah Kaufman, one of my colleagues from the DC Chapter of the Womens’ National Book Association, is the author of over two dozen cookbooks and weaves editorials and commentary about history into many of her recipes (www.cookingwithsheilah.com).
Back to Julie & Julia. While I see no copyright issues in Julie and Julia, I do see other rights clearance issues raised by the book. I’ll discuss those in my next blog posting.