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A Closer Look At The Seinfeld Food Fight

Publication Date: 
January 08, 2008
The New York Times City Room Blog
Jennifer 8. Lee

Professor Mark Lemley is quoted in The New York Times City Room Blog commenting on the merits of a copyright lawsuit. The article talks about the differences between what's illegal and what's unethical when it comes to copyright law:

Intellectual property experts, however, say that no matter whether Mrs. Seinfeld was “inspired” by Ms. Lapine’s work, Ms. Lapine has a very weak legal case given how the law is structured.


Mark Lemley, an intellectual property law professor at Stanford, explained that there was a difference between ideas (not protected by copyright) and their expression (protected).

“We don’t want only one person being able to communicate an idea,” Professor Lemley said, “so the goal of copyright law is to protect the work that you put into expressing that idea, but not the idea itself. In the particular context of recipes is that you can copyright the text of the recipes, but you don’t get any rights over the choice of recipes or the selection of the ingredients.”


“Conceivably you could patent the idea if you could prove you were the first one to have done it,” Professor Lemley said. “But my guess is that neither of these people were the first to come up with the idea.”


Why would anyone fight this potentially weak copyright case? Professor Lemley ventures:

“... I guess these individuals have deep pockets,” Professor Lemley said.