A Simple Guide to Copyright


It seems that copyright is a bit of a grey area for bloggers, especially when it comes to blogging recipes. It can be tricky to find hard and fast rules about what you can and can’t blog, but this post will outline some simple and easy ways that you can stay on the right side of the law.

When it comes to writing recipes, it is very hard to copyright a list of ingredients. However, the way the recipe is written and the methods used are most definitely copyrighted and you cannot reproduce a recipe in its entirety without permission. There is the temptation to reblog a recipe because you’ve seen it elsewhere. After all, if it’s already on a website then it’s fine? Absolutely not! Once you have written your own recipe on your blog, or in any form of print media, then in the UK copyright is assumed.

There is also the misconception that you are ‘helping’ an author promote their book by showing everyone how fabulous their recipes are. Whilst this is well meaning, it is not usually the case. Imagine if every blogger chose to blog just one recipe from that book – there would be no point anyone actually buying the book if it’s all online for free! You could also be standing in the way of exclusivity agreements that authors and publishers have established with other sites or publications.

The best thing to do if you want to blog someone else’s recipe is ask for permission. Many bloggers would be happy to let you use their recipes as long as you are prepared to credit them and link back. If you are significantly adapting a recipe, and by this I mean changing several ingredients or the methods used, then it is considered good practice to credit the source you have adapted it from, but you do not need to ask permission. If you want to use an online recipe as it is, then simply add a link to the recipe without actually blogging it yourself – you can still use your own photos and talk about the recipe without writing the whole thing out.

When it comes to using photos that aren’t your own, again you must be very careful. Most sites will have licensing terms that you must check out before you post the photo and credit must always be given where necessary. There are very few sites that let you use images royalty and attribution free. A good starting place are morgueFile and Compfight.

Sadly for bloggers, there are more and more incidents occurring of content theft. In some cases, bloggers are even finding their recipes appearing in ebooks being sold on sites such as Amazon. This can be very distressing when you’ve put so much time and effort into your blog. However, there are several steps you can take to try and handle the situation quickly and effectively.

If you find your content has been reproduced online without your permission, firstly you should try and contact the site owner and request your content is taken down immediately. If you can’t find contact details on their site, try searching whois or nominet. If you have no luck with this then try contacting the company who hosts the website, informing them of the copyright infringement and giving as much detail as you can. They have the power to suspend the account of the offenders and often take complaints very seriously.

If none of this works then you can file a DMCA with Google, who can remove the site from their search engines. Google have their own policy and form for reporting copyright infringement. In extreme cases, you can instruct a lawyer and initiate formal legal proceedings, issuing a cease and desist letter.

In all cases it is important to stay calm and approach the parties involved in a professional manner, stating clearly and politely what it is you want from them. No matter how frustrating and upsetting it is, try to avoid losing your temper, becoming aggressive or calling them out on public forums. Remember, most cases can be resolved successfully at the first step.

This is just a simple guide and touches the surface of some copyright issues. It is not written as legal advice and if you have anything that you are concerned about when it comes to copyright, it is always best to seek proper legal advice.

Sally is the publisher of Foodies100, the UK's largest directory of brilliant UK food and drink blogs and bloggers. Every day of the week, we promote the UK's best and most exciting blogs about food and drink.

Discussion11 Comments

  1. “When it comes to writing recipes, it is very hard to copyright a list of ingredients. However, the way the recipe is written and the methods used are most definitely copyrighted and you cannot reproduce a recipe in its entirety without permission. ”

    It has always been my understanding that the recipe method is NOT copyrighted – just the words that the author has used to explain it. So, if the original recipe says “combine all the ingredients in a bowl” and you say “mix all the ingredients together in a bowl”, the method is exactly the same, but the words are clearly not, and this is fine. I believe this applies for more complex and unusual recipe methods too – it’s the wording that is copyrighted, not the recipe idea, ingredients or method.

    • foodies100

      As I understand it, technically yes, if you are changing the wording then you are not completely plagiarising but I think it is sailing a bit close to the wind to say that you just changed the wording a bit. There are several articles out there arguing the finer points of whether you can copyright the recipe idea and the method and the advice seems to be to make it your own as much as you can. In cases where you are blogging something that only has the words changed then it is definitely a good idea to link back to your source.

  2. Happened to me recently, the blogger linked to me but then basically reproduced my recipe below. Very hurtful and not someone I will be mixing with again!

    • foodies100

      Not good! If someone is linking to you anyway then there really isn’t a need to reblog your recipe.

  3. Would love to know what the etiquette is when you’ve adapted a recipe from a book and the author doesn’t have a significant online presence?

    • foodies100

      I would say similar as for when you are adapting an online recipe – say which book you have adapted the recipe from and maybe even link to their book on an online book store if possible.

  4. I had a conversation with a blogger on another network before regarding this as she was issued a legal letter for copying a chef’s recipe from his book, and was requested to take the recipe down.

    As far as I know, recipes aren’t very copyright protected. There was a case where an author sued another for copying the style and recipes from her recipe book (from her book’s description she might as well sue Annabel Karmel), but failed as the judge stated that recipes, even cook books, ideas and such, are hardly protected in copyright laws.

    Even the lawyer representing the chef who issued the letter to the blogger explained that he want the blogger to understand the effort the chef has put in etc, more than really sueing her.

    What I do think though, is that as a blogger, as you enjoyed the recipe, you should be more supportive by promoting it (link back and such) but not copy it.

    I only include recipes from others if 1. I translated it to English (still crediting the author), or 2. I changed ingredients and method (and not just the wording).

    There was once I forgot where I got the recipe from, but because I’ve changed so much on the recipe I posted it up and stated that I’ve forgotten who it was from but much has changed by me.

    And a recent one I’ve used Red Ted Art’s recipe but I didn’t post the recipe, just asked people to pop over there to see it for themselves, as I hardly changed anything on the recipe and well, hers was much better 🙂

    I know I shouldn’t link to the other network, apologies, but I’ve included a few links there and much was said that copying the whole thing over here is too much (I’ve alrdy written too much for a comment hehe) so you can check it here if you are interested:


    Note: Sorry about grammars and such, in a bit of a rush!

    • foodies100

      Thanks for your comment. It seems a lot of bloggers have posted recipes from the same author and have all been asked to remove them. As a published author, I would be happy to post recipes from my book on my blog but wouldn’t be keen on others then posting it on theirs, so I can see that point of view. However, I would be delighted if someone did their own interpretation of one of my recipes and linked back to me. In my experience, many recipe bloggers/authors like to see their recipes being used as sources of inspiration but definitely not copied directly.

  5. This is something I have wondered about as I started to run a feature on my blog where I choose an ingredient I am not familiar with and then I cook loads of recipes using that ingredient and then at the end of the month I make my own recipe using what I have learnt. I didn’t feel comfortable posting all of the recipes that I had cooked as they weren’t my own so now if the recipe is already online I link to it and then my post is just a review of it. If the recipe isn’t online then I take a photo of the book and provide a link to where it can be bought (Amazon) and I again only review the recipe without listing the ingredients or method. It seems to be the safest way I can run my feature, and people are still reading about what I learnt!

    • foodies100

      I think that’s a great way to do it – I don’t think you need to add a recipe to everything you blog. Linking wherever you can is key.

  6. I have been bullied online by another food blogger accusing me of stealing her recipe. The recipe is a Jam Coconut Sponge. She sent me a copy of her recipe which lists different ingredients, but a similar method in preparing the sponge. Basically using egg whites and a small amount of coconut flour. I have taken down the recipe, however, she continues her online bullying. Her recipes are copied from Slimming World,so I am preplaxed at why she should be angry. Have I missed something? She makes money from her food blog through allowing advertising. I have deleted my blog account because of the harassment.

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