Getty Images

Chicken sandwiches are going to remain free from the yoke of copyright.

A U.S. Court of Appeals has reaffirmed a lower court's decision last Friday that a former food company employee didn't have grounds for a copyright claim on a chicken sandwich.

Norberto ColĂłn Lorenzana came up with what he called a Pechu Sandwich after he started working at South American Restaurants Corporation (SARCO) in 1987. SARCO ran a number of Church's Chicken franchises.

In its decision the court describes the sandwich as made up of "a fried chicken breast patty, lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and garlic mayonnaise on a bun." Colón sued for a cut of the profits for both the recipe and the name Pechu Sandwich, based on a copyright claim. He lost, and appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which issued Friday's ruling.

The court ruled that the recipe doesn't qualify for copyright because it isn't one of eight categories of work that qualify for authorship. Those eight are:

(1) literary works; (2) musical works, including any accompanying words; (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music; (4) pantomimes and choreographic works; (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; (7) sound recordings; and (8) architectural works.

Advertisement

Chief Judge Howard, delivering the court's ruling, wrote 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."

Colón also made the claim that SARCO had made false statements in order to get the trademark (Note: NOT Copyright) on the name "Pechusandwich" that it received in 2006. But the court also dismissed that claim, stating that Colón hadn't managed to "sufficiently plead that SARCO committed fraud." Basically, he hand't proved that they had alleged anything false in acquiring the trademark.

So, for now, the chicken sandwich remains free from copyright. But let's address one more thing: that Judge Howard's chicken pun game. Here is my first exhibit:

Advertisement

And here is my second:

I rest my case. Or I'm reading too much into legal decisions.

Anyway, this just goes to show you: Don't count your chickens before an appellate court has ruled on them.

Advertisement

[h/t Ars Technica]

Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at ethan.chiel@fusion.net