Does Copyright Apply to Chicken Sandwiches or Cheerleading Uniforms?

Lately the news has been too full of weighty stuff like elections, the Ashley Madison hack, stock markets, and the Chinese economy.

So today’s post is a bit lighter.

Courts in the United States have recently decided whether copyright applies to chicken sandwiches and to cheerleading uniforms. They decided that it applies to one – but not to the other.

If you guessed it doesn’t apply to the chicken sandwich, you got it right. In the US Court of Appeals the parties were fighting over rights to a sandwich consisting of a fried chicken breast topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese and garlic mayonnaise on a bun. The judge said that the “district court properly determined that a chicken sandwich is not eligible for copyright protection”. And that “A recipe—or any instructions—listing the combination of chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and mayonnaise on a bun to create a sandwich is quite plainly not a copyrightable work,”


In a 2 to 1 decision, the US Court of Appeals decided that copyright protection does apply to cheerleading uniforms. The difference between the majority and the dissent hinged on what the purpose of cheerleading uniforms is. The majority decided that the design was decorative, not functional. The dissenting judge however felt that the function of the uniform was to identify a cheerleader as a cheerleader, and thus the design forms part of that function.


  1. A German court has held that the layout of food on a plate may be subject to copyright by the chef, or the restaurant who employs him or her. As a result, diners who want to post a picture of the arrangement to Instagram or equivalent may be in trouble.

    Canadian copyright law requires the subject of copyright to be ‘fixed’. Keep that in mind, the next time someone says they’ll fix you something to eat…

    Would some combinations of food qualify for patent protection, though?

  2. Recipes are subject to trade-secret protection, and there has been patents for combinations of certain food types. Those tend to be in the nutritional supplement area and usually focus on the proteins/vitamins in question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them issued with claims broad enough that they would cover eating certain foods.