Adventures in Copyright Cooking

Last weekend, two of my best friends from law school, Amy Strickland and Ellen Donati Flechas, and I set out on a girls’ weekend trip, which my Dad coined the “Lady Lawyer Weekend.” A cheesy name, but it works. It took nearly four plus months of planning to find a weekend where we all could attend, and even then some of our crew still could not make it.

We wanted something fun. We wanted something low key. We wanted something with little travel time. We wanted something unique. What we settled on was the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Mississippi. For those of you who do not know, the famous Viking ranges you see on every major film set on the Food Network were founded and are made right in Mississippi.

Teaching Kitchen

Greenwood, Mississippi is located in what is known as the Delta. If you have never been, you will recognize the topography in famous movies like O Brother Where Art Thou and, most recently, The Help. With the activity and location decided, we packed our bags and made our way to the boutique hotel located in Greenwood and across the street from the Viking Cooking School, The Alluvian.

The Alluvian is a hidden gem. It comes with a slew of awards including one of the top 56 hotels by National Geographic Traveler and Top 100 Best Hotels in the US from CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER READER’S CHOICE. We had dinner in the hotel at Giardina’s, with its block lettering that oddly is reminiscent of the trademark associated with Ghirardelli chocolate. Trademark law aside, it is really a great hotel and the dinner was fabulous.


Bright and early Saturday morning, we headed across the street to the Viking Cooking School. These three ladies decided the class we most wanted to take would teach us how to fry good southern chicken, make biscuits and put a pot of greens on.  Our waistlines might not be happy, but we were certain our families would enjoy our new found skills.

This is when I wish I could turn off my copyright and trademark brain. Immediately, I noticed how everything was clearly embodying the Viking trademark. Then, we flipped to our menu for the day with the recipes. What should I spy but a copyright designation at the top of the photo!


The recipe credits the Memphis Junior League cookbook for providing the recipe, all the while including a copyright symbol and the year of publication of the Junior League cookbook. Now, why this was technically the proper good-mannered southern thing to do by giving credit, it legally was not necessary for Viking to do so.

Recipe (2)

Copyright protects creative expression. Rules, such as how to do something, are considered functional. Functional aspects are never subject to any type of protection. Meaning, the original Memphis Junior League Cookbook as a whole with the photos, overly creative ways to describe the dishes, graphic design elements and the overall layout could be subject to copyright protection. But, the only part this is actually protectable from a copyright standpoint are the creative elements separate from the functional aspect.

See more and read an early post about copyright protection in recipes, My Secret Recipe

Meaning, a listing of the ingredients and the functional way a recipe is put together will not be subject to copyright protection and is free for anyone to use. What I mean by functional aspects is the straightforward non-descriptive ways of giving instructions for the task to be completed. Let’s look at a biscuit recipe, for example.

Fruits of our laborAs we learned this past weekend, when making fluffy melt-in-your-mouth southern biscuits there are certain steps you must follow. You first combine all of your dry ingredients before adding any of the wet ingredients. There is nothing creative about the description I gave. However, if I was to add a story about my Granmaw rising very early every morning of her life to make my Pawpaw biscuits adding in details about her using a sift, me climbing on a stool to help her and my memories of those moments with the recipe, then those creative added elements would be protected. But, the purely functional part would not be subject to copyright protection.

When thinking about copyright law it is necessary to separate (or sift) the functional from the expressive elements. While it was good manners for the Viking cooking school to give credit, it was not necessary to provide the copyright information in such detail. Not wrong, but not necessary.

The compliation

I am happy to report this less-than-domestic intellectual property goddess did learn how to fry chicken and make greens with a little help from my friends. I am looking forward to trying these out in the future. Oh, and the wine and laughter added to the recipes probably didn’t hurt either! Make plans to visit the Viking Cooking School and The Alluvian in Greenwood, Mississippi. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite friend memories!

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All 3

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