Breakfast Talk #1. The beginning of a series of posts on the topic of food blogging + writing, to initiate conversation and debate.
This post is specifically geared towards food bloggers or those who’re considering it. In my urge to begin writing a cookbook I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve come across many great (and terribly misinformed) articles on the subject. Whether you should or shouldn’t be outside the box, whether you should or shouldn’t self publish, whether you should or shouldn’t go the ebook route, whether you should or shouldn’t find yourself an agent, and the list goes on. But the first thing that comes sneaking across a food bloggers mind (and the minds of their significant others, apparently) is: “what about the legal side of this?!”, and “What about recipes and copyright law?”.
Just how different from the original recipes does yours have to be in order to be called original? Just how many ingredients have to be altered within the recipe for it be considered your own? Are you even technically allowed to blog or write out other people’s recipes? Is stating “adapted from” or ‘”inspired by” enough to keep you out of the danger zone? In the beginning you’re worried about whether or not you’re allowed to write out other people’s recipes with a mere ‘shout out’ as attribution, but if you start to think about writing a cookbook yourself – the idea of someone else ‘taking’ your recipes is also an issue. There are two sides to this story, and from what I’ve read it seems the laws lean in favor of the reproducer rather than the original creator.
The exact phrasing from the US Copyright Office’s website:
“Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.”
To put it simply: A string of ingredients is not subject to copyright protection, as it is merely a list of facts. “These items, in these amounts, are required for the creation of this item”. In the world of food and recipes it is personal, artistic expression that is protection by law, and not a list of ingredients. So – you are legally allowed to share or publish a recipe, so long as you write the instructions, methods, and musings in your own words. You are also not allowed to place together any combination of recipes matching that of an existing cookbook or publication.
Recipes are seen as a list of facts or ideas which are not protected by law, but any substantial writings of a personal nature are. These are your legal basics. Now, blogging and sharing is another story in itself. Blogging about food often means people sharing their successes and failures in trying to replicate specific items from cookbooks! As we all know, tons recipes across hundreds cultures have been handed down generation after generation, over (sometimes) thousands of years. This is what makes food such a rich topic. Without the passing down of recipes and techniques there’s no telling what great delicious things we’d be missing out on today. However, despite our knowledge of food and the competitive nature often surrounding it, we need to remember to respect those before us who gave us these tools.
Many chefs and writers make their livelihood from the developing, teaching, and sharing of recipes and techniques. Yes we can legally type these recipes out, and share them all over the place without any legal repercussions… but should we? On one hand we are sharing recipes and the joy of eating, which is what was intended by the chefs and writers in the first place – and on the other hand we are as bloggers, sharing these recipes with thousands of people rather than just family and close friends, which can be seen as chipping away at the livelihood of these people. Family and friends may account for a dozen people whereas blogging connects far more people to the information presented in these cookbooks, which was meant to be purchased and a living earned from it. It’s a catch 22. To share or not to share? Other than the legal aspect of things, what are the rules of etiquette in blogging and recipe sharing? What is considered acceptable by those who publish their original recipes (both for profit and non profit)?
There are a few simple rules to follow when it comes to both recipe and image sharing on the web, at least for the most part. According to the masses (and my own opinion), when sharing recipes and their corresponding methods or techniques, you should abide by the following:
1) If you’ve slightly altered a recipe: (maybe one ingredient, for example: used different fruit for an upside down cake, or swapped the brown sugar out for turbinado instead) you should label the recipe as “adapted from” and state the author/chef. (I also think a link to purchasing their work, if available, wouldn’t hurt – and will begin doing this in my future posts where applicable).
2) If you’ve swapped out many of the ingredients but used the same amounts/ratios of ingredients, and a similar method of preparation: you should label the recipe as “inspired by” and state the author/chef.
3) If you’ve altered 3 or more ingredients and changed their amounts/ratios, cooking/baking temperature or time, and not even followed the method specified in the recipe: you may call this recipe either your own or “inspired by”, depending on just how many ingredients you’ve altered and your own good judgement.
4) If you’re sharing an image of something you’re inspired or intrigued by: share a low resolution version of the image, speak of why you’re inspired by it and how it relates to your own original content (that you’ve hopefully written!), and provide a link back (Photo Credit: ‘So-and-so’ <–insert link in text) to the creator’s website or a site to purchase the work from.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
As someone who’s becoming increasingly interested and serious about writing her own cookbook: my eyes are being opened to the multiple sides of this story. To share or not to share? The majority of the recipes I share here are in the category of “my own” or “inspired by”, as I get quite a lot of joy from developing recipes. But there are times it’s hard to resist openly sharing other professional’s recipes (from books I’ve purchased), having succeeded in using them! So the ball lays in your court. You are legally allowed to do this, but when it comes to taking a chip off of someone else’s livelihood: how do you feel about it?
The question is legality vs. morality. To follow the legal rules, the blogger etiquette rules, or the rules of even more strict morality? After reading this blurb (and potentially doing some googling of your own)…
What are your current food blogging and recipe sharing habits?
What do you think is fair for the creator?
What do you think is fair for the sharer?
Do you think you’ll change your mind, and if not: why?
Which of the three rules (legal-only, blogger etiquette, or strictly moral) do you follow, and why?
Would love to hear your comments. Debates always welcome too!
Ciao for now Guys.