In the short time I’ve been part of the U.S. Copyright Office, I’ve had several conversations that follow this same general scenario: “You work for the Copyright Office? Isn’t that where every copyright in America is registered? Should I go there with my idea that I want to protect? Will they take a family recipe?” I’ve been most surprised by how often I get asked that last question.
The next time I have this conversation, I can point people to a new video in the Copyright Office’s Learning Engine YouTube series. It asks a deceptively simple question that is important to answer correctly: what is copyright? If you do not know what copyright is, you’ll learn what it does and does not protect, and what rights you have.
Before coming to work for the Copyright Office, I was like the hypothetical person outlined in the introduction of the video. I thought copyright was limited to the copyright symbol (©) I saw on some items. Now I know that I am a copyright holder and have been one for years, just like most everyone else. Every time I’ve taken a picture while on a trip, I was creating something that fits the requirements for copyright protection. So, too, does that old daily journal I kept for a while back in sixth grade. I feel a greater sense of pride in these works because they meet the bar for copyright. They all are creative works of free expression fixed in a tangible form.
If you are wondering about whether recipes are covered by copyright, unfortunately, you cannot register the ingredients themselves. However, if you wrote down instructions, created a cookbook with the recipe, explained the history of the recipe, or recounted your memories of cooking the food with your friends and family, you may have the basis for something that could be registered.
Watch the Learning Engine video, What is Copyright, on our YouTube channel to learn more about copyright and find out which of your works could be registered. Share it with your friends so they can learn, too. Don’t forget to subscribe so you will be notified when we add more useful videos like this one in the future.