Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Case of the Sneaky Cook
If you want to get something published, it doesn't hurt to be Jerry Seinfeld's wife. At least that's what Missy Lapine apparently thought when her idea to sneak healthy ingredients into children's foods showed up in a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld. And when an imprint of the same house that had recently turned down Lapine's The Sneaky Chef published Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious, Lapine was convinced that Harper Collins and Seinfeld had stolen Lapine's idea.
So Lapine sued--and lost.
As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. That's why ideas belong to everyone and cannot be copyrighted. Sneaking healthy ingredients into children's food is an idea. There was no evidence that Seinfeld or Harper Collins got the concept from Lapine's manuscript, but they were acting legally if they did.
Beyond the basic idea, the two cookbooks were very different. As the judge described it, The Sneaky Chef covered thirteen methods for sneaking healthy ingredients into children's foods, was printed in muted colors, and was dry and text-heavy with a lecturing tone. In contrast, the judge said that Deceptively Delicious concentrated on one method (pureeing), was bright and cheerful, and provided simple, step-by-step recipe instructions for busy parents.
But if you can't copyright ideas, what can you copyright? You copyright expression, which covers the words you choose to present the idea and the way you arrange those words. (The exception is when there are limited ways to say something, such as describing how to make a particular recipe.)
Still, how do you know where the courts draw the line between ideas and expression? Find out next month when I cover the case of the aging protagonist.
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from Amazon.com and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court's First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.