Recipe lenses on Squidoo – what are the copyright and potential TOS issues?

Espresso sea salt caramels 500x375 Recipe lenses on Squidoo   what are the copyright and potential TOS issues?

Chef Keem's Expresso Sea Salt Caramel Truffles

Visit the Squidoo Top 100 and you will always see some recipe lenses. Do a search for a specific recipe on Squidoo and I bet you will nearly always find it. Recipes are popular on Squidoo but are they always what they seem?

There seems to be some confusion among Squidoo Lensmasters about what does and not constitute plagiarism and copyright violations as far as recipes are concerned. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I am sure that “someone” told me once that there is no copyright on a list of ingredients but you cannot legally copy a method on to a website or Squidoo lens and it is best to write it all in your own words.

Clearly, not all Lensmasters re-write the methods, as I have seen many a recipe lens where I have copied and pasted content  into a Google search box and the ingredients and method appear all over the internet. This may lead some Lensmasters to believe that because a recipe IS all over the internet, then no one owns the rights to it and they can reproduce it word for word on a lens.

Hmmm….I would be VERY careful if the sites owned by Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver are listing those recipes!

So what DOES the law say?

In an attempt to clarify the situation, I did what I always do when some serious Squidoo research is required and I posted a question at the SquidU forum. I asked what people thought and had some very interesting responses.

Leanne Chesser did some digging around (thanks Leanne) at the US  Copyright Office Website (on recipes), where she found:

“Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

Protection under the copyright law (title 17 of the U.S. Code, section 102) extends only to ‘original works of authorship’ that are fixed in a tangible form (a copy). ‘Original’ means merely that the author produced the work by his own intellectual effort, as distinguished from copying an existing work. Copyright protection may extend to a description, explanation, or illustration, assuming that the requirements of the copyright law are met.”

So we are taking that to mean that what I said earlier is the case. Re-write “the substantial literary expression” (the method) in your own words.


I think what upsets people more than anything is if no acknowledgment of the source is cited on the Lens. By not acknowledging the source, the impression is given that it is your own original recipe and that is where accusations of deceit and *gasp* even plagiarism could be made.

As far as the Squidoo TOS are concerned, breaches of copyright remain the responsibility of the individual Lensmasters as they retain ownership of the content of their lenses. However, Plagiarism is a clear Squidoo TOS violation, can be reported and can result in your lens being locked. (For a great lens about Plagiarism, visit Susanna Duffy’s lens: What is Plagiarism?)

 Recipe lenses on Squidoo   what are the copyright and potential TOS issues?

Making peach cobbler - another great recipe lens from Chef Keem

And what about those recipes that are handed down through the generations?

My Bread Sauce recipe, is a very old traditional recipe, which my Father uses and which my Grandmother taught him. I think the first time it was written down was when I made the lens on which it is featured.

My Dad also taught me the art of making perfect gravy but it was Delia Smith, a well known English TV Chef, who gave me the idea to add red wine to it. (Dad hates red wine, so he would never have thought of that!) So I make sure that Delia is credited on the Lens and of course that provides me with some material for an Amazon module!

Lensmaster Lou16 makes a very interesting contribution to the discussion, when she says:

“Some people who publish recipes don’t even realize that they were originally in printed form……I have a recipe that I was going to publish, but hadn’t got around to. It was written down on a piece of paper by my hubby’s great aunt and she was ‘famous’ in his hometown for it, I had planned to put in a little anecdote about her and include the recipe – lucky I didn’t because earlier this year I was looking through an old recipe book and there it was – word for word! Who knows if someone else took Loma’s recipe or if she copied it off of them?”

I am thinking though that Lou can still make the lens. She should scan the ingredients list from the recipe and use it as an illustration on the lens and tell the story she told us. Lou should link to or credit the original recipe book and make sure she describes the method differently.

For me the best recipe lenses are ones that tell a personal story. They say who taught the cook to make the dish. Was it passed down from Grandmothers and Mothers or Dads like mine was? We really do want to know!

Kate Phizackerly makes a cautionary comment:

“People might wish to reflect on the fact that copyright works both ways. If recipes cannot be copyrighted, then recipes in a lens aren’t copyright either so it’s OK for people to lift those recipes for their own lens. It means the success of recipe lenses comes down very much to the SEO ability of lensmasters.”

Kate has a good point, but I actually think it is not just good SEO that makes Squidoo recipe lenses successful. The difference between the best Squidoo recipe lenses and the ones you find on sites all over the internet, is that many tell a story. There’s also some very active Squidoo Recipe Groups and Blogs, that help promote high standards of recipe lenses on Squidoo. Giant Squid Organiser Robin (Lensmaster rms) runs Cabaret Squidoo, Correen (Lensamster Clouda9) has started up a Squidlog Blog:  Squidoo Chefmasters and of course the most well known Chef of all on Squidoo is Chef Keem who invented the famous Sea Salt Caramel Truffles.

 Recipe lenses on Squidoo   what are the copyright and potential TOS issues?

Chef Keem's Tres Leches Coconut Macaroons

Good recipe lens etiquette

Recipe lenses can contribute to your family history, like many lenses you publish, you are leaving what could turn out to be quite a legacy. So surely it is far better to be honest rather than create the impression that you are coming up with original recipes?

And do remember, just a quick “ctrl + C” (copy) and a quick “ctrl + V” (paste) into a Google search box could return thousands of websites with that very exact same recipe featured and you are rumbled!

If the recipe was handed down, then say so. If you don’t know the original source, then say that as well. It seems to me that in the interests of openness and transparency, it makes sense to cite your sources on all recipe lenses.

Or should that be cite your sauces icon smile Recipe lenses on Squidoo   what are the copyright and potential TOS issues?

Featured image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License


About AJ

I am a wannabe writer, who for five and a half years was very active on Squidoo. I left the site in November 2013 for many reasons. I am now focussing developing my own sites and I will share my journey on my own blog.


  1. Terrific post and I plan to add a link back from the Cabaret Squidoo blog and several of my recipe lenses!
    Excellent tips and information. Wanted to add that it is my understanding that simple recipe titles (Apple Pie) can not be copyrighted. But I’d watch out if you are using Celebrity name titles. (ie: Rachel Ray’s Apple Pie)
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..Best Seafood Chowder Recipes =-.

  2. Kathy McGraw says:

    Very interesting….At times I have wondered about some of these, as like you said they are all over the Internet. Some I have seen are quite well done, others just a basic cut and paste which is really plagiarism.

  3. Thank you Robin and a great tip about not upsetting Celebrities!
    .-= AJ´s last blog ..Recipe lenses on Squidoo – what are the copyright and potential TOS issues? =-.

  4. I know that in recipe contests, there are usually very specific details about how many ingredients can be in common with other published recipes. By changing a few ingredients and by writing your own directions, you can personalize a recipe so that it’s your own. Who follows the recipe to a T? I don’t. I always make minor adjustment according to my taste or what’s on hand. And then by actually MAKING the recipe, you have your own tips and pitfalls to share in the directions.
    .-= Jimmie´s last blog ..Celebrate Chinese New Year with a Contest =-.

  5. This is very interesting and I appreciate your researching the copyright issue of sharing Recipes on Squidoo. I will definitely go back and take a look at mine. I think they are ok because I usually try to tell a personal story about the recipe but will check to make sure. Thank you. I am glad that I caught this on Tagfoot.
    .-= ohme´s last blog ..bethd821 =-.

  6. I am so paranoid that I always try to put my sources for recipes–if I can remember them. This post has made me want to go back to all my recipe lenses and double check the sources. Thanks for the information and comments here. I just love to read your posts.
    .-= Mickie G´s last blog ..bethd821 =-.

  7. This is a much needed post, AJ. I’ve always made a practice of noting my recipe sources even if it was just a newspaper or magazine clipping. But just to make sure, I’ll double check all of them. I agree that if you’ve got a favorite recipe from a cookbook, it’s a perfect opportunity to create an Amazon spotlight module to go with it. And if there’s a personal story behind the recipe, that just makes the lens all the more interesting.

    Another thing that I think is very important is that you’ve actually made the recipe. That’s where taking pictures as you go along or a photo of the finished product (if at all possible) is valuable. There’s nothing more irritating than trying a recipe from a lens and it either doesn’t work right or it’s obvious for some reason that the recipe wasn’t tested, first. I would hope that if anyone makes a recipe from any of my food lenses and it doesn’t turn out that they would let me know through my “contact me” link. I may have missed an ingredient or made another error and would appreciate a heads up.
    .-= Cheryl Kohan´s last blog ..bethd821 =-.

  8. Excellent post as usual, AJ. Recipes are so hard to determine where they came from some times. I created my own biscotti recipe from several recipes that I tried and changed until I found one that I loved, but I certainly am not the first person to make biscotti. All recipes are rehashing of other recipes.

    The copyright information is very useful. Some of my recipe lenses are from when I was a brand new baby lensmaster. I will definitely have to go back and check them.

  9. This is an excellent round-up all about recipes, sharing and Squidoo. Lots of things for us to consider as we design our recipe masterpieces.

    Just the other day I was at mom’s asking for recipes that I could share online and I thought it interesting to let you know that on her cards she had written where she got the recipe, on one there was a note that the recipe was a secret family recipe – I won’t be sharing that one anywhere online ;)
    .-= clouda9´s last blog ..Recipe Share #2 Pork and More =-.

  10. Excellent post.
    .-= charlino´s last blog ..Hollywood Dolls For Charity =-.

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