Legal Question in Intellectual Property in Virginia

Cookbook Recipe ownership

I have worked in a small, successful restuarant for the past 10 years. We change the menu often, aprox. 12-15 menus a year. This is rare considering the type of food we are doing, but the process produces a wealth of information. Unfortunately, that information, other than on printed menus, is largely in our heads. The owner of the restaurant would like us to put out a cookbook, and with no apparent ghost writer, the recipe-writing, which is quite time consuming, is to come solely from me and the kitchen staff. However, there has been no discussion about financial compensation for what I see to be potentially our creative property and also a lot of hard work.

To the best of my knowledge, I don't remember assigning away my creative rights in any type of employment contract. So, what is the fair and ethical way for me to proceed? I'd like everyone's position to be clear before the project begins.

If I (and my staff) never waived our rights to the 1000-plus dishes we've produced over the years, can we legally expect to be compensated if a cookbook using those--or

new--recipes is produced? And do you have any idea what profit percentage is appropriate to request? Do I, also, need to contact an attorney?

Thank you

Asked on 3/16/06, 12:56 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

Michael Stone Law Offices of Michael B. Stone Toll Free 1-855-USE-MIKE

Re: Cookbook Recipe ownership

It's the old Steve Martin comedy routine. "I forgot." You could drop hints that payment for your contributions to the book could help refresh your recollection. Or you could write your own cookbook. If it ever gets to the dealmaking stage, yes, get an attorney with experience in copyright law.

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Answered on 3/16/06, 1:01 pm

Daniel Press Chung & Press, P.C.

Re: Cookbook Recipe ownership

If the book is written by employees of the business in the course of their employment, the copyright is the property of the business, not the individual authors, unless there is an agreement to the contrary. You should work out the details before embarking on this, as the employer could also argue that the recipes belong to him as well, even if not yet published.

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Answered on 3/16/06, 2:04 pm
Thomas Dunlap Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver

Re: Cookbook Recipe ownership

Definitely hire counsel. You need to have a contract with your employer in place before you begin work that defines rights to your work of original authorship. You could certainly start writing on your own, but keep the writing confidential until you have a contract in place. Copyright protects original works of authorship and you could write the entire book, copyright it it (that is, register it) and then contract to sell it. The big question is the other kitchen staff's input and the possible claim your employer might have for your use of thier ideas. Again, the best thing to do is contact an IP lawyer. Feel free to e-mail us.

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Answered on 3/16/06, 2:31 pm

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