By Mike Pomranz
Updated August 25, 2015
Fried Chicken Sandwich with Maple Bacon & Pimento Cheese
Credit: © Dennis Prescott

No matter how artfully you stack lettuce, tomato and chicken, or whether your masterpiece is on a sesame bun versus a brioche, you can’t copyright a chicken sandwich, according to a recent federal court ruling.

The decision stems from a case where an employee of a Church’s Chicken in Puerto Rico suggested a new menu item for the restaurant, a sandwich he called the “Pechu Sandwich.” After the sandwich found some success, its inventor went on to sue for part of the profits, claiming, in part, that the franchise owner had stolen his intellectual property by taking his recipe and name.

As sad as the tale of the supposedly stolen chicken sandwich may be, the legal precedent remains: You can’t copyright a sandwich, chicken or otherwise. “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,” the court said in its opinion, affirming that “a chicken sandwich is not eligible for copyright protection.”

As The Consumerist points out, the law specifically states the eight types of copyrightable works, and food is nowhere to be found. They include “literary works; musical works, including lyrics; dramatic works, including musical score; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works.”

It’s bad news for chicken sandwich artisans everywhere, but great news for my forthcoming cookbook, Recipes I Blatantly Stole from Julia Child.