This explains a lot about online recipe culture, including why storytelling and recipes are so tightly tied together. A recent New York Times story
laid out how this limitation to the copyright law, basically existing since the beginning, has helped to create a culture where the fear of theft discourages some cooks from sharing their recipes. And the roots of the problem speak to outdated perceptions from the colonial era:
When the nation’s copyright law was first codified in 1790, cooking was seen as a woman’s domestic responsibility rather than as a professional activity, [intellectual property lawyer Sara] Hawkins said. Written recipes are a relatively new invention; many cultures passed down culinary traditions orally.
While the technology and music industries have pushed successfully to change copyright law in their fields, “there is not a big powerful lobby to push anything through for individual recipes,” she said.
As a result, some cookbook authors feel less willing to publish their treasured recipes.
In some ways, this point does make sense; a list of instructions may seem less like creative output than, say, a guy writing 30-minute rants against a timer, despite the fact that the list of instructions took a lot more work. (See what I did there?)
But now, recipes are big business, and a successful cookbook can raise a chef’s profile in a big way. And there are notable cases of cookbooks being full of pilfered recipes, complete with stories, which are often necessary to help protect the copyright. The Times
story highlights how a high-profile chef, Elizabeth Haigh, had her book removed from shelves
after a lower-profile author, Sharon Wee, pointed out that her recipes and even her personal anecdotes were pulled into Haigh’s book.