This is another question we get quite a lot – so I thought it would be worth addressing with a blog post. Usually it sounds something like this:
I’ve invented a completely new cocktail recipe. How do I make sure nobody can copy it and call it something else? And how can I get the word out about the recipe?
It’s a great question. After all – artists and writers have their work copyright protected all the time. Why not cocktail creators?
Before I dig into this, I want to just highlight the fact that I am NOT a lawyer and none of the following represents legal advice. This is based on my own research and understanding. Definitely consult a “real” lawyer to get the full scoop!
The Bad News:
Unfortunately, the US Copyright office does not protect recipes. That means that someone else could “copy” your recipe, rename it, and call it their own – and you won’t have any protection from the US Copyright office.
This is why we are allowed to create cocktails from cocktail books and post them on our blog. The recipe itself is not protected from copying. It’s considered “fair use”.
While this sounds like bad news, in a lot of ways it isn’t bad at all. What good is a cocktail you have invented if nobody can make it? Allowing people to make (and, arguably, copy) your cocktail means it will definitely get more publicity… it just might not have your name on it.
The Good News:
You may not be able to protect the recipe itself, but there is quite a lot that you can protect:
- Your own original photos or drawings of the cocktail
- “Substantial literary expression” that goes with the cocktail. This could be your description of the drink, the process of making it, your story on how it was invented or even just a description of how it tastes. Again, this must be original and created by you.
So in our previous example of creating cocktails from cocktail recipe books, we can certainly remake the cocktail – but if we were to copy their pictures, or chunks of the text about the cocktail (without properly crediting it), we would be at risk for copyright infringement.
Getting Credit for Your Creations
All that being said, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to get credit where it’s due. And the best way to do that is to get the word out!
Choose a Great Name
Before you even consider publicizing your cocktail, you MUST choose a great name. I don’t pretend this is easy – it’s often one of the hardest parts of making a drink! The name you choose should be memorable, and it shouldn’t already be “claimed” by another cocktail. Google “[cocktail name]” Cocktail to see if it’s already been taken. If it has, I’d recommend moving on to a different name… yes, even if the other recipe is terrible!
In a perfect world, you’ll get the word out about the drink, it’ll get replicated by a few bloggers, maybe put on a few cocktail menus, and 3 years from now someone will google it because they had it once in a bar and it was delicious. But if the name is already being used by someone else, it’ll just cause confusion.
I have bad news for you. Every bartender loves creating their own drinks, so it’s going to be an uphill battle to get other bartenders to use your recipe. Your best bet is to get the word out and hope it “sticks”. Here are a few suggestions:
Put it on the Menu
Are you a working bartender? Put it on your own cocktail menu! This is a great place to start, as you’ll get a lot of visibility to the guests in your own bar. Ask your manager if you can put your own name on it as well – for example, “The Ravens Claw, by bartender George Smith”
(Side note: I just made up “the Raven’s Claw” and a quick google search didn’t reveal a cocktail recipe by that name. So that’s a freebie for you!)
Enter it in a Cocktail Competition
Brands spend a LOT of money on cocktail competitions, and in exchange for that money they want publicity. Submitting your cocktail recipe to the competition gives that brand content they can use in their press releases, social media, and other marketing about the event.
Important side note: read the small print! Some cocktail competitions will say they own the rights to any recipes that are submitted. That (plus our note earlier that your cocktail recipe can’t be copyrighted) means they may well share the recipe without giving you credit. That said, most press releases I get about prize-winning cocktails do highlight the creator and give credit.
Submit to Cocktail Recipe Directories
There are a LOT of cocktail recipe websites and apps out there. Here are a couple I found that accept user submissions:
I’d search for as many places as possible for you to submit your recipe online. The more places that have the same, consistent recipe for that cocktail, the more likely it will start to be seen as “THE” recipe.
If you have a blog – publish it! (But that’s a no brainer) and then share it across social media and recipe aggregator websites like Tastespotting, FoodGawker, and Liqurious.
If you don’t have a blog – don’t be disheartened. You can still publish your cocktail recipe on a website like Medium.com.You get the benefit of publishing your cocktail with your own name attached, and you won’t have to set up a blog from scratch.
By the way – many bloggers (like us!) welcome guest submissions. We love featuring reader’s cocktails and would welcome the opportunity to publish your drink. (And we always give full credit, of course.) Consider reaching out to cocktail bloggers and see if they might like to share your drink as well. (Hint: beautiful pictures will make it much more likely your cocktail will be published, so take the time to get some great photos that you can let the bloggers use!)
If I may step onto my soapbox for a moment, I’d like to suggest a slight change of mindset when it comes to cocktail recipes. Too often I hear bartenders say things like:
“How can I make sure nobody copies my recipe?”
“I can’t believe they would steal my recipe and call it something else”
“I invented the recipe and want to make sure I get credit”
First of all: I hear you. Inventing a cocktail is no small task, and it can often take many hours of trial and error to get your recipe just right. The idea of someone copying your recipe and skipping all that hard work? That’s downright frustrating.
But in all the time we’ve been in this industry and all of the people I’ve spoken with, I have never ever heard of a bartender copying someone else’s recipe with intent to copy it.
I have absolutely heard of:
- A bartender “inventing” a recipe that another bartender had previously come up with
- Someone being inspired by a cocktail they had in a bar, and trying to replicate it at home
- A bar manager finding a great recipe in a cocktail book and putting it on their cocktail menu
In every one of these scenarios, the use of the cocktail recipe was driven by inspiration, curiosity and excitement about the craft. We should think differently about our recipes, look for opportunities to share, and most importantly celebrate when someone else enjoys them.
After all, that’s what our industry is all about: making great drinks and memorable guest experiences!
I freely give out my recipes at work both in person and in various ways on the web (blog, OnTheBar app, ShakeStir, Barnotes app, etc.). People come to my bar for reasons other than the drinks, and if they already know a few, I have plenty more to show them. And if they are going to make drinks at home (or on/off the menu at another bar), I’d be honored if they were mine.
Also, my blog revolves around other bartenders being open about their recipes. The few places in my travels where I’ve been refused a recipe is due to them outsourcing the recipes to someone they have to pay or they have an owner/manager who is not too creative coming up with the list and guarding it. I view secrecy and protectionism as a potential weakness of a program.