Mar 30 2011
Restaurant owners and chefs often conflict with regards to who owns the copyright to the recipes created by the Chef for the dishes served at the restaurant. This conflict occurs so frequently because the answer requires inquiry into a number of factors in order to make a proper determination ownership.
Recipes that merely list ingredients are not copyrightable. They become copyrightable when they contain expression beyond the mere listing of ingredients, such as mixing and cooking directions, tips, photos, etc. Once they become copyrightable, they must be put in writing (or in some other tangible form such as a recording) in order to receive copyright protection. They are copyrighted the second they are written down and they do not need registered with the U.S. Copyright Office (although registering them does provide additional advantages such as proof of latest creation date, public record, and registration is required in order to file a copyright infringement lawsuit).
GENERAL RULE: THE COPYRIGHT FOR RECIPES CREATED BY THE CHEF WHILE WORKING AT THE RESTAURANT WILL BELONG TO THE RESTAURANT.
Once they are reduced to writing, the timing and circumstances of such will determine who owns the copyright. For example, if the chef copyrighted the recipes prior to working for the restaurant (eg, created and wrote them down), then the inquiry stops there: the copyright belongs to the Chef. If the Chef created the recipes on his personal dime and time but during his employment period with the restaurant, then the Chef will own the Copyright. If the Chef created the recipes while working at the restaurant, then the copyright will belong to the restaurant in accordance with the Work For Hire Doctrine in the Copyright Act. One simple way to eliminate all of the uncertainty is to execute a written “Work For Hire” agreement specifying that all recipes created during the period of employment shall become the property of the restaurant. There are numerous exceptions and nuances to these general rules and a consultation with a qualified attorney should be had to determine actual copyright ownership of recipes in each particular circumstance.