7 Essential Steps to Protecting Your Food Blog’s Content

Image credit: Stephanie Sisle Photography

Guest post by Lesley Ellen Harris, a copyright lawyer, author and educator. Lesley is the founder and publisher of the copyright resource site, Copyrightlaws.com, where she explains copyright law in plain English.

As a food blogger, you create content (recipes, text and photographs) and distribute it via your blog to the world at large. You work hard to perfect your posts, and want to be sure that others don’t use your work without your permission. Did you know that this is a right under the U.S. Copyright Act?

While copyright protection is automatic, you can act to enhance this protection. It’s also up to you to determine if anyone uses your work without permission. The following are seven essential steps to help you protect your food blog’s content.

#1: Use the copyright symbol and statement on your work

Under the U.S. Copyright Act, your copyright protection starts as soon as you take a photo with your smart phone or DSLR, and once you save a blog post to your computer or other device’s memory. For recipe development, an ingredient list is not protected by copyright, but your expression of ideas (the words you use in the recipe directions) are protected, and this also starts as soon as you save your words.

Despite the automatic protection afforded by the Copyright Act, it’s still a good idea to use the copyright symbol on each photograph, recipe and blog post. Doing so reminds your followers, whether on your blog or the social media platforms where you share and promote your work, that copyright exists in the work and the owner is you! The Internet and social media has fostered a sharing culture where many people think they can take and reuse the fruits of your hard work for their own purposes without permission; the presence of your copyright statement gently reminds them this isn’t so.

We’re all familiar with the copyright symbol — it’s the letter c in a circle: ©. It informs others that the work is protected by copyright. The statement indicates who owns the work and the year the work was first published. So, if you take a photo and publish it on your blog today, you would add this: © Mary Clark 2016.

#2: Insert a copyright information statement or page on your blog

Having a copyright information statement on your blog in a footer or sidebar, or even a separate page, enhances the copyright symbol on each post and photo. You could even link to it in posts. This is where you talk about your copyright protection in more detail, for example by letting readers know that you welcome links to your posts but must give permission for someone to reuse your photos or words. Remember, if you want people to behave in a certain way, you need to make it easy for them to do so! Include a clickable link to your email address so that making the request is as simple as possible.

#3: Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office

While it’s not necessary to register your copyright-protected work with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO), doing so — and the earlier the better — has advantages. It provides prima facie evidence of your copyright claim and registration is also required before you can file any copyright infringement action in court for works of U.S. origin.

#4: Make your recipes an extension of your voice

As stated above, a list of ingredients can’t be protected by copyright, but the recipe headnote and instructions can. While directions for making your pumpkin spice cupcakes need to be clear and easy to follow, they don’t need to be generic. It’s easy to make the headnote personal with a story about how these cupcakes remind you of baking with Nana, but even technical directions can convey your unique writing voice (think in terms of vocabulary, tone and overall style). So make these elements of your blog more identifiably yours, strengthening the concept of your copyright protection in your readers’ minds.

#5: Understand your copyrights and how to monetize them

Many food bloggers not only love what they do, but they do it to earn income. So, it pays to understand your copyrights and how to monetize them. When you receive an email from a reader who wants to share a photo of your chicken fried steak along with a link to your post on her own blog, you might choose to do so for a written credit and the link. But if Mighty Spice Corporation wants to use a picture of your vegan chipotle-spiced chocolate pudding in a national print advertising campaign, you might want to charge a fee. You also need to think about whether you will license or assign the rights (think rent or sell), and specific terms. Be a smart businessperson: know your copyrights and how to profit from them!

#6: Monitor for use of your words and images

You put a lot of effort into communicating and protecting your copyright ownership, but how do you know if someone uses your work without permission? Relying on friends and family to tell you that they saw one of your photos in a magazine or on a website isn’t very effective. Be proactive and monitor! While there are services that will do this for you, you can search online yourself for specific photographs or strings of text from your posts. It pays to learn how to do effective searches.

And, should you find evidence of unauthorized use of the recipe for your triple-decker snickerdoodle cake on one of those Facebook pages with hundreds of thousands of followers, there are a variety of options for following up and seeking a remedy for this copyright infringement. Space doesn’t allow for discussion of this here.

#7: Take the time to educate yourself about copyright

You’ve spent years honing your cooking skills, have taken courses to learn how to use your camera, and studied numerous handbooks to improve your writing. Protect the product of all this learning and practice — your food blog — by adding copyright to the list! Learn how to gain the most from and enhance the legal protection the Copyright Act gives you, how to enforce your rights against unauthorized uses, and possibly to monetize your exclusive copyrights.

Register now for Protecting Your Copyrights in the U.S. from Copyright Law. This eTutorial will help you get maximum protection for the awesome content you create by understanding your legal rights and how to enforce them.