The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court ruling that Jessica Seinfeld, cookbook author and wife of comedian Jerry, did not violate the copyright of Missy Chase Lapine, author of “The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals.”
A few months after Lapine’s book appeared on shelves in 2007, Seinfeld published “Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food,” a cookbook full of tricks for how to sneak healthy food into children’s meals; Lapine alleged that Seinfeld had stolen her “Sneaky Chef” idea.
In comparing the two books, the judges noted the contrast between their styles, notably that Seinfeld’s book was full of color and targeted beginning cooks while Lapine’s was more textbook-like with “black, gray and shades of brownish-orange” images.
Most importantly, the appellate panel decided that “[s]tockpiling vegetable purees for covert use in children’s food is an idea that cannot be copyrighted.”
More on Copyright Law
It’s important to note that ideas generally cannot be copyrighted. According to the U.S. Copyright Office:
Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.
Copyright is reserved for original works of authorship such as books, other written text, songs, films, photos, choreography, and paintings.
Copyright protection attaches as soon as the work is put into tangible form, but you can only sue for damages from a copyright violation if your work is registered with the US Copyright Office; having a valid copyright also gives you the exclusive right to distribute, reproduce, and present your work publicly.
Charles Colman details exactly why Lapine’s argument didn’t stand up in court on his Law of Fashion blog.
For more information on how you can copyright your work, check out LegalZoom’s Copyright Center.