Breakfast Talk #1. The beginning of a series of posts on the topic of food blogging + writing, to initiate conversation and debate.

This post is specifically geared towards food bloggers or those who’re considering it. In my urge to begin writing a cookbook I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve come across many great (and terribly misinformed) articles on the subject. Whether you should or shouldn’t be outside the box, whether you should or shouldn’t self publish, whether you should or shouldn’t go the ebook route, whether you should or shouldn’t find yourself an agent, and the list goes on. But the first thing that comes sneaking across a food bloggers mind (and the minds of their significant others, apparently) is: “what about the legal side of this?!”, and “What about recipes and copyright law?”.

Just how different from the original recipes does yours have to be in order to be called original? Just how many ingredients have to be altered within the recipe for it be considered your own? Are you even technically allowed to blog or write out other people’s recipes? Is stating “adapted from” or ‘”inspired by” enough to keep you out of the danger zone? In the beginning you’re worried about whether or not you’re allowed to write out other people’s recipes with a mere ‘shout out’ as attribution, but if you start to think about writing a cookbook yourself – the idea of someone else ‘taking’ your recipes is also an issue. There are two sides to this story, and from what I’ve read it seems the laws lean in favor of the reproducer rather than the original creator.




The exact phrasing from the US Copyright Office’s website:

“Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.”

To put it simply: A string of ingredients is not subject to copyright protection, as it is merely a list of facts. “These items, in these amounts, are required for the creation of this item”. In the world of food and recipes it is personal, artistic expression that is protection by law, and not a list of ingredients. So – you are legally allowed to share or publish a recipe, so long as you write the instructions, methods, and musings in your own words. You are also not allowed to place together any combination of recipes matching that of an existing cookbook or publication.

Recipes are seen as a list of facts or ideas which are not protected by law, but any substantial writings of a personal nature are. These are your legal basics. Now, blogging and sharing is another story in itself. Blogging about food often means people sharing their successes and failures in trying to replicate specific items from cookbooks! As we all know, tons recipes across hundreds cultures have been handed down generation after generation, over (sometimes) thousands of years. This is what makes food such a rich topic. Without the passing down of recipes and techniques there’s no telling what great delicious things we’d be missing out on today. However, despite our knowledge of food and the competitive nature often surrounding it, we need to remember to respect those before us who gave us these tools.




Many chefs and writers make their livelihood from the developing, teaching, and sharing of recipes and techniques. Yes we can legally type these recipes out, and share them all over the place without any legal repercussions… but should we? On one hand we are sharing recipes and the joy of eating, which is what was intended by the chefs and writers in the first place – and on the other hand we are as bloggers, sharing these recipes with thousands of people rather than just family and close friends, which can be seen as chipping away at the livelihood of these people. Family and friends may account for a dozen people whereas blogging connects far more people to the information presented in these cookbooks, which was meant to be purchased and a living earned from it. It’s a catch 22. To share or not to share? Other than the legal aspect of things, what are the rules of etiquette in blogging and recipe sharing? What is considered acceptable by those who publish their original recipes (both for profit and non profit)?




There are a few simple rules to follow when it comes to both recipe and image sharing on the web, at least for the most part. According to the masses (and my own opinion), when sharing recipes and their corresponding methods or techniques, you should abide by the following:


1)  If you’ve slightly altered a recipe: (maybe one ingredient, for example: used different fruit for an upside down cake, or swapped the brown sugar out for turbinado instead) you should label the recipe as “adapted from” and state the author/chef. (I also think a link to purchasing their work, if available, wouldn’t hurt – and will begin doing this in my future posts where applicable).


2)  If you’ve swapped out many of the ingredients but used the same amounts/ratios of ingredients, and a similar method of preparation: you should label the recipe as “inspired by” and state the author/chef.


3)  If you’ve altered 3 or more ingredients and changed their amounts/ratios, cooking/baking temperature or time, and not even followed the method specified in the recipe: you may call this recipe either your own or “inspired by”, depending on just how many ingredients you’ve altered and your own good judgement.


4)  If you’re sharing an image of something you’re inspired or intrigued by: share a low resolution version of the image, speak of why you’re inspired by it and how it relates to your own original content (that you’ve hopefully written!), and provide a link back (Photo Credit: ‘So-and-so’ <–insert link in text) to the creator’s website or a site to purchase the work from.




As someone who’s becoming increasingly interested and serious about writing her own cookbook: my eyes are being opened to the multiple sides of this story. To share or not to share? The majority of the recipes I share here are in the category of “my own” or “inspired by”, as I get quite a lot of joy from developing recipes. But there are times it’s hard to resist openly sharing other professional’s recipes (from books I’ve purchased), having succeeded in using them! So the ball lays in your court. You are legally allowed to do this, but when it comes to taking a chip off of someone else’s livelihood: how do you feel about it?

The question is legality vs. morality. To follow the legal rules, the blogger etiquette rules, or the rules of even more strict morality? After reading this blurb (and potentially doing some googling of your own)…


What are your current food blogging and recipe sharing habits?

What do you think is fair for the creator?

What do you think is fair for the sharer?

Do you think you’ll change your mind, and if not: why?

Which of the three rules (legal-only, blogger etiquette, or strictly moral) do you follow, and why?


Would love to hear your comments. Debates always welcome too!


Ciao for now Guys.







Posted by:Ashley

12 replies on “Food Blogger Etiquette, Recipe Copyright Law + Legality vs. Morality.

  1. Very interesting article Ashely. I’ve been wondering about the same questions myself. In the end we all need to decide for ourselves, but I usually go by this: What I don’t want to be done to me, I don’t do to others.

  2. This is a great informational article every foodblogger should read. It can be hard to determine at times what you should mention exactly about the source of your recipe (especially if you didn’t follow an exact recipe) but you should always mention something about the source to give credit. I have heard about bloggers getting into trouble and you can avoid this in a simple way.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Yes I agree. I recently read an article about a food blogger who’d been contacted by a cookbook author’s agent, stating that they’re aware he’s within his legal rights to share recipes, but if he’d at all reconsider sharing this particular ones. Made the blogger feel quite badly, and changed his views on recipe sharing.

      I found that very informative and eye opening! Though we’re legally allowed to do so, it’s always better to alter things a bit, make them more ‘your own’, and credit the original author as inspiration. I think as long as we’re starting to think more about it and critique our own motives, we’re on the right track!

  3. Really informative and a good start to get people thinking. I’d always mention ‘inspired by’ or ‘altered from’ when using someone else’s recipe as a base line. Otherwise it is plagiarism.

    The use of photos is a whole other ball game as I far as I’m concerned and should always be referenced and linked in the proper way.

    At the end of the day it is all about people’s own art and creations and that should be shared, but also respected.

    1. I agree Nicola!

      You know what they say: “sharing is caring!” It’s true. So long as we’re respectful and encouraging, rather than self serving and unappreciative!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  4. Great post! Definitely something to ponder. I’m very new to the food blogging world, published my first post on Sept. 21, but I can speak as an aspiring screenwriter that IP (intellectual property) protection is always something we have to consider. Of all the movies and movie ideas out there, there’s really nothing new or purely original. It all comes down to execution; taking an old idea and putting a fresh spin on it. I think the same can be said about food and recipes. So far, everything I’ve posted in my blog has been my own recipe. It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, a hamburger or pasta is far from an original idea, however executing every element from scratch is perhaps a new spin yet still familiar, just like those bank heist movies or romantic comedies. It’s all been done, but we still go back for more.
    In regards to etiquette, I fully agree that anybody who tries out another chef/cook’s recipe and blogs it for the world to see, should certainly give credit where credit is due. I know I would, and would appreciate the credit whether it’s about livelihood or not.
    As far as cookbooks are concerned, as with any genre of film we enjoy, it’s not always about the formulas and individual elements, it’s about content. Reading a cookbook should be like reading somebody’s autobiography. Whether it’s on-the-nose facts or in the subtext, the reader should have a deeper understanding of the author, otherwise it’s just an anthology of somebody’s favorite recipes.
    With that said, best of luck writing your cookbook. I think you should if you’ve got a story to tell.

    1. Thank you for writing such a thorough comment on the subject! Great!

      You’ve got a good point there- when anyone is purchasing a cookbook they’re not just purchasing it for the recipes, they’re purchasing it for the stories and personality that the writer lends to the book. Each well written book (or any creative project for that matter) becomes unique due to the personal twist put into it by the creator. A recipe copy and pasted from cookbook to internet article may be sometimes unwanted : but it’s still not sharing the whole of the original author’s content, as the original content has character and hopefully interesting stories we can relate to, or are touched by in one way or another!

      I guess that’s the same in screenwriting and film. We keep coming back for more of the ‘same’ because we know it’s never really all the same. The details and variations matter.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Fantastic post! When I first started blogging, I didn’t even think about whether or not I could reprint established recipes but shortly after someone copied one of my own created recipes word for word, line for line, I looked into the matter and read much the same as you posted about here. Though we can pretty much legally copy and post all the recipes we want, I think the moral element is what really drives a person to give credit where credit is due. I no longer post/reprint recipes from cookbooks on my blog, but rather, find the recipe already posted often with permission from the author on an established site and link back to it. I am constantly inspired by my fellow bloggers and will always attribute my inspiration, no matter how slight, back to them. I think being respectful in this manner contributes to the growth and strength of the blogging community. Good luck on your cookbook!

  6. Well said! I’m sorry to hear someone’s copy-pasted your content in the past, but at least it was an eye opener as you said. I actually hadn’t thought to find sources that had already shared a specific recipe with permission, and then linking to that. Clever!

    And link backs and credit definitely create a stronger community among bloggers as well, agreed!

    Thanks very much for commenting!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this! I have found some amazing recipes that I love, but have changed slightly and wanted to share on my blog, but I wasn’t really sure what was expected/the right way to handle it. This has really helped! I definitely want to help grow the blogger community and give credit where it is due! Thanks!

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