Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recipe Attribution: The Debate Rages On


This is the first in a continuing series of posts about how to keep it legal while blogging.

When someone copies a recipe word for word and fails to provide credit for the source it is pretty easy to accuse them of not providing the proper attribution. The line becomes blurred with a tweak here and there. When does a recipe become your own? What is the proper way to credit a source?

Well, let me see if I can help you figure it out.

From a legal standpoint, the expression or language of a recipe is what is copyrighted, not the ingredients or method.

From a blogger standpoint, it is generally appropriate to acknowledge the source of your adaptation or inspiration whether it is protected by copyright law or not. To be honest, I’m not sure that I have complied to date with what I have set forth below. When I started out I had no idea how I should credit a recipe. Now that I know, my intention is to comply from here on out.

Let’s start with the basics. A copyright protects “original works of authorship.” A “work of authorship” includes literary, written, dramatic, artistic, musical and certain other types of works. Copyrights are different from patents, which protect inventions. Copyrights are different from trademarks, which identify the source of goods and services, i.e logos and brand names.

The U. S. Copyright Office states the following:

Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.

Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying it from an existing work.

In general, the copyright belongs to the creator of the work. If the work is a joint work, then the law assumes that each creator owns an equal share in the copyright unless there is a signed, written agreement that states otherwise. A copyright owner has the right to produce the copyrighted work in copies. A copyright owner can also license the use of the copyright in his or her works. Basically, the copyright owner retains ownership but lets someone else use the works.

Registration of the copyright is not required for protection. The copyright exists as soon as the work is created; however, you must register your copyright in order to sue someone for copyright infringement.

Is your head spinning yet? Have your eyes glazed over? Take a deep breath and keep reading. Here is how I interpret what is detailed above.

There are basically three different ways to note the source of a recipe which are as follows:

1.) “Adapted from” – where you are only making a few changes to the recipe. The recipe is recognizable as having been created by the copyright holder.

2.) “Inspired by” – where you make more than a few changes and the recipe becomes unrecognizable but you used their recipe in the creative process.

3.) Your own creation – no citation needed.

Play it safe. Just because it is not illegal doesn’t mean it is okay. If you want to establish respect among your peers provide credit where credit is due. As David Lebovitz pointed out in his extensive post about this issue, “When in doubt, always give attribution.” Cite your source and link back to the original work.

Let me know what you think about my interpretation. Do you feel bloggers should do more to give proper attribution or do you feel bloggers are too sensitive about how recipes are attributed?

Related Links:

Recipe Attribution: (Food Blog Alliance)

Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours: (Will Write for Food)

Know Your Digital Rights – Recipe Copyright: (Saving for Someday)

Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship.

Pin It!

43 Responses to “Recipe Attribution: The Debate Rages On”

  1. 1

    Maureen — January 17, 2012 @ 6:59 PM

    Anyone who has spent hours and hours in a kitchen perfecting a recipe that’s totally theirs and someone comes along and rips it off word for word is definitely doing the wrong thing.

    I haven’t done that I don’t think but I’ll be much more careful.

  2. 2

    Liz — January 17, 2012 @ 7:24 PM

    Great info! I think I do this…as most of my recipes are “adapted from.” Always good to have a refresher.

  3. 3

    Bunkycooks — January 17, 2012 @ 7:34 PM

    It is way past time that bloggers give credit where credit is due. If you use someone’s recipe, give them credit in the post or on the recipe itself. If you adapt a recipe, say it’s adapted from the original author. If you want to use written content, photographs or video from someone’s site, ask first. We all work hard and spend money to provide content, recipes and photographs to our readers. When it is taken without giving credit, it is wrong. There is nothing worse than seeing your entire post or recipe taken and published elsewhere with no credit given to you, especially when they have ad revenue that benefits from your stolen content.

  4. 4

    Chef Dennis — January 17, 2012 @ 7:35 PM

    Wow! I love it, this is information that everyone needs to have!
    Great job Wendy!

  5. 5

    Kristina — January 17, 2012 @ 7:40 PM

    great one – this has been talked about so much, and yet the people who need it don’t read it? :)

    I love your distinctions between adapted and inspired!

  6. 6

    Sara at Saving For Someday — January 17, 2012 @ 7:45 PM

    Wendy, thanks for referencing my article about Recipe Copyright. Having your recipe taken is not fun (I even wrote about that too!), and the Cooks Source debacle shows us that even professionals get it wrong too. Anytime you have a question, feel free to email or tweet me.

    Thanks for spreading the word about how to be a good foodie blogger!

  7. 7

    sippitysup — January 17, 2012 @ 7:47 PM

    You see it the same way I do. I think more and more of us are getting on board and doing the right thing. GREG

  8. 8

    Jersey Girl Cooks — January 17, 2012 @ 8:51 PM

    Wendy, this is great information! I agree on playing it safe.

  9. 9

    Ann — January 17, 2012 @ 9:41 PM

    GREAT information! Thanks for making it easy to understand…

  10. 10

    Michelle — January 17, 2012 @ 9:42 PM

    Its a hard one to call sometimes. For example, what if you are using a recipe that your mum made fairly consistently? And you reproduce it on your blog with credit to your mum. Say, a few weeks later someone else comes by and says, hey, that’s my recipe and I invented it. Traditional recipes, in particular are hard to call.

    When I have a recipe that has been passed down by family, then I do a quick google search using keywords from the recipe. If something markedly similar shows up, I do more research and only then publish the recipe. I have also got in the habit of asking my family where they got the recipe from. If they say, their own mother/ grandmother, then I go ahead and publish.

    I have had recipe and content nicked from my site, particularly my older, traditional recipes. Most of the time a quick email/ comment has sufficed to get it off, or accredited. Ocasionally I have had to go in a little harder, but end of the day, most people are nice.

    My rule of thumb has always been ‘if in doubt, reference’ both academically and for the blog. Recipe attribution has, and will always be a minefield, especially with the proliferation of bloggers. Its an interesting debate and one that will continue for a while, by my reckoning.

    A fellow Indian blogger has a great post on her site about recipe ‘theft’, well worth a read.


  11. 11

    kita — January 17, 2012 @ 9:45 PM

    When I was new new to blogging, I didn’t know to link back to a site. I would include it but it took a really nasty email to let me know how things should be done. Its great to have written resources like this to prevent unneeded tears brought on by ignorance.

  12. 12

    Elizabeth @Mango_Queen — January 17, 2012 @ 9:52 PM

    Thanks for such a great write-up, Wendy! Much needed. I hope the right people read this & take note! This is a topic for discussion that we need to keep addressing!

  13. 13

    Dianne Jacob — January 17, 2012 @ 10:45 PM

    Thanks for the link!

  14. 14

    Amy's Cooking Adventures — January 17, 2012 @ 11:28 PM

    What a great resource! Thank you!

  15. 15

    Barbara | Creative Culinary — January 17, 2012 @ 11:49 PM

    I’m going to go against the grain a bit here I know but I’ve seen way too much bellyaching about someone ‘stealing’ a recipe. Maybe I’m old school when sharing recipes were an integral part of relationships…when seeing a friend make something I shared with her would never instigate the words, ‘That’s MY recipe.’

    Is it ad revenue that is driving this trend? Or ego. Because I’ve got too many years of experience to believe that only one person in this entire would would think of putting a limited list of ingredients together and in doing so would ‘own’ that recipe.

    Couple of cases in point. I have two cookbooks in my collection from different cities, different decades and different authors. They each include the EXACT same recipe. Was there collusion in that effort? Probably not but in the spirit of sharing and handing down to friends I’m sure that’s happened many times over. I saw a well known blogger post about her aunts favorite recipe for a treat I’ve been making for years that is in an old edition of a Better Homes and Garden cookbook. Uh oh.Should I have called her out on that?

    In another example; this past summer I decided to make a trio of sorbets. I wanted to combine an herb from my garden with a liqueur from my bar for each one. I wanted them to be unique so with each combination that I decided upon I did a Google search to weed out like recipes and with EACH AND EVERY ONE someone else had done the same thing. I kept at that exercise for 2 hours and finally decided to just go with my first instincts. Did I feel inclined to attribute or acknowledge someone else that had published the same thing before me. I did not. If I had done that search to get those recipes, I would absolutely have accredited them…but not if I came up with the combinations and simply found I was not alone! Am I wrong…or isn’t that why a list of ingredients can’t be copyrighted in the first place?

    Don’t get me wrong…I don’t ascribe to saying any kind of theft is OK but I see some people get on a mighty high horse and call out their Twitter minions in full attack mode towards someone they think has wronged them. I find that behavior as, if not more, reprehensible. Saw it yesterday…girl fought back and she was right…the blogger had a Creative Commons license on some pages and using her work product was allowable if credited. She hastily changed her site and then harangued the party in question. It’s a slippery slope certainly but all parties have a responsibility to be professional, fair and reasonable don’t they?

  16. 16

    Priscilla - She's Cookin' — January 18, 2012 @ 1:09 AM

    I ascribe to the same: “adapted” “inspired” and you came up with it on your own. However, I always compare this to being an artist – everyone is inspired by those before and around them and there really is little that is 100% unique.

  17. 17

    Three-Cookies — January 18, 2012 @ 1:13 AM

    Great post. I think if in doubt attribute. It does not cost anything to attribute, I can’t think of any downsides of not attributing. If the source is credible/well known it gives endorsement to your own recipe and others are more likely to follow it I guess.

  18. 18

    Julie @ Willow Bird Baking — January 18, 2012 @ 1:28 AM

    I’m in agreement — in the spirit of the collaborative nature of food and our supportive community, we should err on the side of recognizing others who’ve inspired us. I try to do this in my own work.

    Regarding whether there’s too much griping about “recipe stealing,” I don’t think anyone’s going to be concerned if someone’s cookie recipe looks similar to one they created, but every now and again you really hit upon a creative, new idea/technique — and those are the ones it can be so hard to see adapted without recognition. I think there’s a balance between sharing and being open with our ideas and also recognizing each other’s creative energy. It’s definitely one that can be achieved with just a little consideration!

  19. 19

    Jenn — January 18, 2012 @ 2:05 AM

    Great post, and I operate by many of the same standards that you outlined here – when in doubt, credit! The only one I would add is if you do not change the recipe at all – you are merely rewriting the directions in your own words, then it’s best to just cite the recipe as “from so and so”. I see a lot of people say “adapted from” where there was no adapting done…

    Though what I’ve never understood is why people get so uptight about recipes but often think nothing of taking someone else’s photo and slapping it up on their blog without even a credit. To me recipes are a much grayer area of copyright law/etiquette than photos…

  20. 20

    Adriana — January 18, 2012 @ 4:21 AM

    Thanks for sharing this – it is especially relevant now with SOPA and PIPA on everyone’s radar.

  21. 21

    Lisa — January 18, 2012 @ 5:27 AM

    I’ve been on both sides of the boat. Was accused in a nasty, horrid way of ‘blatant plagiarism’ in a comment from a blogger about a recipe back in my early blogging days, from the NY Times, that I copied from this blogger (full credit to all parties) because the NY Times page wouldn’t load that day. I completely missed/did NOT see one sentence she added to the ‘verbatim’ NY Times recipe directions she posted – one sentence about the temperature in her apt. Yes, I wanted people to think I lived in your apartment!! It still angers me to this day because you don’t bully people like that, not to mention accuse them of ‘blatant plagiarism’, since it’s usually an honest mistake or a newbie not knowing.

    On the flip side, there are two recipes from my site that have been copied numerous times without credit – one I just noticed recently. Before I came up with it, I had done days and days of exhausting internet searches to make sure no one else had already come up with it, so a good part of it ‘is’ my creation. No credit again, no adapted from, just one small change and suddenly it’s their recipe that they came up with. I will email them privately and nicely, and hope it works out.

    As for ‘adapted, inspired etc’, I’m glad you clarified all that. I usually post ‘Recipe by blank, with my revisions’, unless I made a ton of changes, so then it’s ‘Adapted from blank, with my revisions’. This way, no gets gets their panties in a bunch lol Fantastic post, Wendy!

  22. 22

    Keeley @ My Life on a Plate — January 18, 2012 @ 11:09 AM

    Great post!

    Many of my recipes are “adapted from”, but there are some that I consider originals and I designate them as such on my blog. Of course, I do think that there’s really no such thing as an original recipe, so I’m sure people could attack me and say that I didn’t invent the idea of putting bacon in macaroni and cheese (or something similar). I believe that some food bloggers are overly sensitive about attribution, but it’s best that all food bloggers understand copyright law and try to be courteous in attribution.

  23. 23

    Magic of Spice — January 18, 2012 @ 11:43 AM

    Excellent article! I think that the inspired portion gets a little tricky and I agree with Priscilla on this. Nearly all things inspire me in one way or another, but it is usually produce 😉

  24. 24

    Nancy@acommunaltable — January 18, 2012 @ 12:56 PM

    Great discussion!! Have to say I agree with Barb on this. What I find interesting is that attribution is rarely done in magazines – unless the recipe is from a cookbook (and typically is part of a cookbook review). Are we to infer that EVERY recipe in EVERY magazine is the unique creation of the magazine? Of course not!

  25. 25

    Curt — January 18, 2012 @ 8:18 PM

    I completely agree with your interpretation. My wife and I generally make our own recipes, but the few times I’ve used part of or copied outright someone else’s recipe, I always give proper credit.

  26. 26

    Terra — January 18, 2012 @ 10:15 PM

    It is funny, not funny ha ha…but just interesting that people don’t give the original recipe credit. I know in the beginning I really didn’t understand, and would share photos without sharing where I got them. I have since take them down, I would never want to upset anyone. I love making a recipe my own, but I still understand the importance of giving the original recipe holder credit. Thank you for your important, and very helpful information!!! Take care, Hugs, Terra

  27. 27

    Rhonda — January 18, 2012 @ 11:20 PM

    This is obviously a heated topic. I believe, wholeheartedly in giving credit “adapted from, inspired by” or however you phrase it. I have, like others have mentioned, given full credit to an original publisher and been scolded by the blogger for not asking permission to adapt their recipe and post, really?

    I am tickled to death when someone adapts/uses one of my recipes if they mention the source and especially if they link back to it. Recipes are for sharing, bloggers are sharing kind of people and most don’t mind when credit is given.

    I have adopted the custom of contacting the person first so I don’t get harassed, and have never had one say NO. I am also quite sure that my brilliant idea/recipe is rarely original (I almost hate to Google it for fear I’m not so clever as I’d like to think). I know first hand what it’s like to have a post copied in it’s entirety and that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    You’re post is well put and makes it quite clear on who/how to give credit. Speaking of credit, you can thank Chef Dennis for sending this reader to your post. I’ll be anxious to read the subsequent articles.

  28. 28

    David — January 19, 2012 @ 1:11 AM

    The problem nowadays, unlike when it was only books, is that it’s hard to keep track of things online and anyone who has a blog who has had their content swiped, knows how it feels to have their words and ideas (and photos) appropriated by someone else. Especially nowadays because a number of people are trying to make a fast buck and are repositioning content from elsewhere to juice up their sites (and income). And unlike before, individuals are now sel-publishers – whereas in the old days, an editor and a publisher would vet material, so it’s up to individuals to follow certain guidelines.

    The debate about recipes, and who invented what, and what is sharing, etc..is really been hashed out before – if it’s something like roast turkey, tart dough, vinaigrette, etc, those things are in public domain. But the words used to describe how to make those things can be protected – just like The Star Spangled Banner is the same song and anyone can sing it, but that doesn’t mean that I can release Whitney Houston’s version on an album of my own songs.

    The point is, if you want to use someone else’s recipe, you simply need to rewrite it and adapt it, share it that way, and cite the source of inspiration. That’s what readers want to hear about. It’s really not that difficult to do and if you’re just blogging to cut-and-paste recipes and photos from elsewhere, you should reconsider why you are blogging in the first place. What fun is that?

  29. 29

    Our Lady of Second Helpings — January 19, 2012 @ 1:17 AM

    I really appreciate the way you broke the issue down in plain terms. I always think back to the MLS citations we were taught in school when posting a recipe or other idea I share with my readers. For me it just boils down to treating others as I wish to be treated because what goes around comes around, right?

  30. 30

    Dana S — January 19, 2012 @ 2:17 AM

    Well said. Thank you. I love the “inspired by” concept.

  31. 31

    Lucia — January 19, 2012 @ 5:28 AM

    Very informative and timely piece. When I first started blogging I did not put recipes in. The idea of the blog being telling someone what I ate for dinner (see masthead of blog for better description). I was terrified of infringing on a copyright. Then I started linking back to the recipes I that found online and commenting on the blogs that I had made their recipe. It helped start a few nice online friendships. For cookbooks I linked to the specific cookbook on Amazon.

  32. 32

    Marit — January 19, 2012 @ 9:19 AM

    Don’t be intimidated by the copyright process. You simply fill in a form online and make a payment. That’s it.

    Also, be sure you have updated your blog’s copyright date. La Phemme Phoodie has been updated, but I’ve been to others who have not been updated since they launched their blog. Just one more protection.

    Thanks for continuing this important conversation.

  33. 33

    Thippi — January 19, 2012 @ 11:27 AM

    Thanks Wendy for this very helpful info. I’ve just begun my journey of blogging & this very question came up in my head about “tweeking” recipes which I love to do in order to make it fit my family’s needs. I read so many recipes & also like to create my own that sometimes I wonder, did I read this somewhere or did I really just created a “new” recipe? Oh & there’s the issue of recipes that was (orally) handed down from my Mom & Mother in law that I sometimes don’t know where they got their recipes from…what do I do with that? How best to state those kinds of recipes?? Lots to think about when blogging…Thanks to Chef Dennis & Cravings of a Lunatic for sending me here, I have a lot to learn!

  34. 34

    Bestfoodies — January 19, 2012 @ 1:30 PM

    Thanks for explaining all of this. When I started my blog the first thing I did was put in a disclaimer because I have sooo many recipes that I have no idea where they originated. Many of them I make my own subtle changes to as most of us do and that is the only credit I can take. I do have many recipes that I have made over and over on my own perfecting them to be what my family liked and I try to always state that but so often get carried away in writing and just forget. I hope that having an open disclaimer lets everyone know that I am not trying to take credit where credit is not due. Until all the recent posts about this subject I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea people were actually taking the credit for others work and saying it was original. I need to always think about how I word my post and thanks for the tips!

  35. 35

    Mary — January 19, 2012 @ 3:45 PM

    This is an excellent explanation of the food blogging process. I found your blog through Chef Dennis. What a great topic for a series. I’m looking forward to reading more. Thanks!

  36. 36

    Aimee @ ShugarySweets — January 19, 2012 @ 7:37 PM

    Definitely a heated subject no matter which side of the fence you are on. I happen to feel a little in between on this matter. While I think copying and pasting (and taking a photo) from a blog is definitely “stealing.” I’m not so sure “original recipes” exist much any more. I recently posted a recipe on my blog, that I sat in my kitchen, scoured my pantry and wrote it out with no influence. Baked, photographed and blogged the recipe. Only to be harrassed by email that I stole someone’s idea. Different recipe completely, clearly my own wording, but they were convinced I stole their idea.

    I blog and share recipes because it gives me joy. I ENJOY creating recipes. I also enjoy trying new recipes from other sites, and when I do I rewrite the recipe in my own words, the way I created it. But I do give credit in this circumstance. I think many bloggers need to relax a little bit on the “original idea.” I mean seriously, how many ways can you use chocolate, pretzels, and M&M’s.

  37. 37

    Laura @ Family Spice — January 20, 2012 @ 10:10 AM

    Now that everyone is a blogger, there is so much content out there, and especially recipes. Who says two or more different people, in this massive internet world we live in, can’t come up with similar recipes on their own? It happens. You have to take this food blogging gig with a grain of salt. And yes, you can find inspiration anywhere. Professional chefs find inspiration in other people’s cooking and they don’t give their inspiration credit. I think if you change out dried cranberries for raisins, it’s the same recipe. If you swap out all purpose flour for whole wheat flour, fruit purée for butter, you were inspired by the original recipe. If you totally changed more fundamental ingredients, it’s your own creation. I once tracked back a dozen or so blogs to find the original source of a recipe, only to find that this cookie recipe was the same as the original recipe. Each blogger only gave credit to the previous blogger who “found” the recipe, not the original creator of the recipe. That just isn’t playing fair in the sandbox. Great discussion!

  38. 38

    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — January 20, 2012 @ 12:55 PM

    I agree whole-heartedly, and also David L’s post and comments definitely puts everything into perspective.

    Thanks for distinguishing the difference between adapated and inspired by :)

  39. 39

    Eliot — January 20, 2012 @ 6:17 PM

    I am always soooo inspired by other bloggers. I really like to give “shout outs” where shout outs are due and include links (and credit) to other bloggers and their sites. Great post!

  40. 40

    Tammy @ Skinny Mom's Kitchen — January 26, 2012 @ 12:35 PM

    This post is extrememly helpful as are all the comments. I agree that with so many food bloggers, food sites, cookbook, etc there really is no such thing as an original new recipe anymore. Maybe once in awhile I suppose but not as often as people might think. As a newer food blogger (almost a year) I give credit to each recipe I post. However, on my site, I am not really trying to create original recipes. I am showing people how to adapt recipes for freezer cooking and other make ahead meal cooking strategies. I may use same ingredients but my directions and cooking methods and preparations are totally different because like I said I am showing how to adapt recipes for freezer cooking.

    What I come away from with this post is that ingredients cannot be copyrighted (unless it is extremely unique). However, if you copy ingredients and word from word instructions then post on your site without giving credit that is wrong. And it is even more wrong if you steal the picture too.

    And what I also get from this is ideas cannot be copyrighted. So just because a food blogger cooked a quick bread in a mini loaf pan does not mean every food blogger that does the same thing but with a different recipe has to attribute that back to the food blogger. Make sense?

    So just so I am clear “adapting a recipe” is not so much changing the ingredients but writing out the method and result in your own words. Correct? I mean if a recipe is tried and true when does the ingredients always have to be “adapted”. It is more the method? Again correct me if I am wrong.

    Ultimately, bottom line, is always give credit where credit is due.

  41. 41

    Juls (Pepper and Sherry) — January 28, 2012 @ 3:50 PM

    If I have actively used another’s recipe in any fashion be it for inspiration, adaptation or as per stated of course I credit them. Not because I fear that it is legal or because I feel I have to but because its common courtesy. Even before I was blogging, if I made a recipe that I had off a friend and someone complimented it I would thank them and say “its a recipe from my friend x” – what makes it any different just because its online and I may not know the person I got the recipe off?

    But if I myself “create” (for want of a better word) a recipe myself without looking at anothers recipe I won’t be googling to see who else has the same or similar recipes just for the sake of crediting because, lets face it, chances are someone has but I have not used their recipe in any influence of my own.

    I know my recipes in no way belong to me and I’m not going to get pissy if I see someone else’s post which appears to gram for gram be the same as mine because there’s every single chance in this big wide world that someone has had the same thought as me. I’m so egotistical as to believe my thoughts are that unique. However if they have used photographs or quoted word for word my entire or large parts of my own post, clearly indicating that they used my blog, without credit then that’s crossing a line. Thankfully, its only happened twice for me and both were resolved quickly by a polite but firm private message. I know I felt really horrible before it was resolved though, I felt really sick and taken the piss out of. It wasn’t nice and I would never intentionally make anyone else feel a mockery for the sake of the recipe.

    At the end of the day I have never looked down at anyone else for using someone else’s recipe. I will look down on them for plain out scabbing the entirety of someone else’s work and passing it off as their own.

  42. 42

    Anne — February 17, 2012 @ 10:05 AM

    Another valuable post. Completely agree that to maintain integrity and respect as a blogger you must give credit where credit is due.

  43. 43

    Kelly — August 9, 2012 @ 12:53 PM

    How interesting to find a post on this by an attorney! And the comments you have received have been so illuminating too. I don’t’ have a blog yet, but this is an issue I know I will have to consider.

    I own hundreds of cookbooks, and my daughters and I would like to simply cook from them, and then post about what we have cooked. If we found the recipe to be great, and I did not adapt it, I’d think that the author would be flattered for the use of it and our favorable review, especially if the cookbook was published back in 1997 or 2003 and could benefit from new exposure. But I know some cookbook authors don’t quite feel that way and they’d much prefer that we ask permission before posting a recipe found in one of their books. Making this much more difficult is that the cookbook publishers themselves are living in the 19th century. To ask permission for reprint of a recipe requires a snail mail letter to the publisher (and they are careful to note that we may *not* use email for this purpose) and somebody will then eventually get around to reading that letter, and will send back a snail-mail reply. This procedure could obviously take weeks, and is not very realistic for a blogger who wants to post that “we made this great paella tonight!” Only the professional foodies who have cookbook authors on their personal (now virtual) rolodexes can benefit from this antiquated official permissions system. My goal would be to give good recipes and cookbooks we love a refreshed audience – I’m not sure what could be so objectionable about that.

    Also, it’s pretty clear that many, many, cookbook writers and magazine recipe writers may spend time tweaking a recipe in their kitchens, but they very rarely disclose whose recipes they might have consulted as they put together their eventually published recipe for Bouef Bourguignon or other “classic” recipes. These well established recipes didn’t fall out of thin air, and there’s a good certainty that a few previously published sources were consulted as the newly created version came together, perhaps with the bacon cut a bit differently but still. Rarely are the sources consulted as inspiration noted, and that seems a shame.

    There are cookbook authors like David Thompson and Patricia Wells who have spent a lot of time toe to toe with Thai street food vendors or French chefs, but they mention that, and have built a lot of their credibility from those practices. Unless a recipe writer has spent that kind of time, or has spent similar time at the hip of their grandma, a classic recipe likely has been researched. If there’s a recipe for chocolate devil’s food cake either on a blog or in a cookbook it’s unlikely to be original, but few allude to their “inspirations.”

    It would be nice if the entire food community tipped their hat to the influences of their fellow cooks. At present, it’s the bloggers who are singled-out for the focus on attribution (with some of the most popular bloggers being given the most generous pass) but really, everyone – bloggers, cookbook authors, and magazine recipe developers – ethically, if not technically, should be moved to admit when a recipe was not created out of thin air, particularly for recipes of the “classic” kind, and just give credit where credit is due. I actually find that stream of the passing on of recipes from one cook to another, whether by hand or by influence, to be one of the most interesting parts of the story.

Leave a Comment