Restaurateur Denied Copyright Protection for Recipes

Posted by on May 4, 2015

A federal court ruled that an Ohio restaurateur’s recipes were not protectable under copyright laws. The court issued its ruling earlier this year on a motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff has since filed her notice of appeal. (Read the full opinion here.)

Rosemarie Carroll, plaintiff and owner of Cleveland restaurant, Tomaydo-Tomahhdo, sued her former business partner, Larry Moore, for alleged copyright infringement of her recipe book. When the pair was working together, Moore developed, or was the inspiration behind the recipes. Carroll eventually bought-out Moore’s interest, and Moore went on to open another restaurant and catering business without Carroll.

Carroll then filed this lawsuit claiming copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. § 501 against Moore and his co-Defendants for allegedly using the same recipes and creating the same dishes as those featured in the “Tomaydo Tomahhdo Recipe Book.” Carroll claimed that defendants’ food offerings were derivative works from her Recipe Book, which violated her compilation copyright.

The federal court quickly dismissed plaintiffs’ arguments stating that copyright protection does not extend to recipes because they are statements of fact which offer no expressive elements warranting protection. The federal law itself states that recipes are “functional directions for achieving a result,” and therefore, will not be afforded any creative protection.

The court noted that recipe books may be copyrighted as compilations to the extent of the book’s “order and manner of the presentation of the compilation’s elements,” or, the manner in which the compiler selected and arranged the facts. However, the facts of the recipes will have no such protection.

As such, the court found that defendants did not infringe on plaintiffs’ recipes themselves, and because plaintiffs did not allege defendants infringed on her compilation copyright, defendants were not liable.