Can You Copyright an Alcoholic Drink Recipe?

By Lisa Magloff

A copyright is a legal protection for an original work, such as a book, poem, song or piece of computer software. Copyright protects a work from being copied or reproduced without the permission of the owner. As mixology becomes a more serious profession, with a more serious income for top cocktail creators, bartenders have begun to consider the best ways to protect their cocktail recipes from copying.

A copyright is a legal protection for an original work, such as a book, poem, song or piece of computer software. Copyright protects a work from being copied or reproduced without the permission of the owner. As mixology becomes a more serious profession, with a more serious income for top cocktail creators, bartenders have begun to consider the best ways to protect their cocktail recipes from copying.

Copyright Law

United States copyright law does not allow copyrighting of an ingredients list, such as a list of drinks used in a cocktail. However, you may be able to copyright a recipe if it is in a tangible form and includes a “substantial literary expression," such as a description of the cocktail, an explanation of how to mix the ingredients in a particular way or an illustration of the completed cocktail. If the recipe is included in a book or other collection of recipes, then the contents of the entire book can be copyrighted.

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Protecting a Drink Name

It is not possible to copyright protect a name, but some unique names can be protected by trademark. A trademark can prevent other bars or restaurants from using a drink name, and it can also require bars to make a tradmarked drink with certain ingredients. For example, Pusser's Rum has a trademark on the name Painkiller. This means that a bar or restaurant cannot legally sell a drink called Painkiller unless it is made with Pusser's Rum. In 2011, Pusser's sued a New York bar called Painkiller for trademark infringement. The bar eventually agreed to change its name.

Patent a Drink

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it is possible to apply for a utility patent for “any new and useful process, article of manufacture or composition of matter.” If you have invented a completely new drink, especially one that relies on a new mixology technique or unique ingredients, you might conceivably be able to get a patent on the drink. This will protect your drink form being made by anyone else, but the patent process can be lengthy and expensive and usually involves using a patent attorney.

Considerations

You should keep in mind that once copyrighted or patent protected, the ingredients in your cocktail will become public knowledge. If your cocktail recipe includes a secret ingredient or technique, you may not want this widely known. If you have published a cocktail recipe while working under contract at a bar or restaurant, or as a brand ambassador, the bar or brand may own the rights to any drink you created while on the job. For example, if the brand you work for publishes a recipe book of cocktails, it may own the copyright to the contents of the book. You will need to check your employment contract to determine if you retain the rights to the recipe.

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Trademark of Recipes

References

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The Terms for Renewals of Copyrights

Copyright helps the creators of artistic, musical, literary and other intellectual works see the economic rewards of their creations by giving them the exclusive right to display, sell and license those works for a set period of time. Once copyright protection expires, the work enters the public domain and can be used by anyone. Copyright on newer works can't be renewed, but the copyright on some works produced before 1978 may be renewed.

Copyright Laws for Authors and Artists

Copyright law creates ownership rights for works of authorship, including literature and visual arts. In the United States, copyright law is governed by federal law and is enforced by federal courts.

How to Copyright a Quotation

Quotations are not typically copyrighted; rather, the work of which the quotation is a part of is the copyrighted work. It can be difficult to ensure that a quotation receives copyright protection because "fair use" permits excerpts of a copyrighted work to be used for limited scholarly and educational purposes. However, there are several steps authors can take to protect their quotations and, depending on the length of quotation and how it is published, they may be able to enforce their copyrights.

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