“My wife was browsing for a good burrito recipe and stumbled on a blog that posted a recipe strikingly similar to one on Food & Wine without giving any credit,” said my friend Ethan in a recent email.
“The blogger had modified the recipe a bit, but clearly a lot of the recipe was cut and pasted,” he continued. “I made a comment, as polite as I could, asking the blogger about it, but I suspect she won’t approve it.”
(I’m not providing a link because I don’t want you to tear this food blogger a new one. People can get pretty worked up on this blog.)
I was intrigued and went to the food blogger’s site to investigate. While she did not provide credit, her About page said, “A lot of the recipes on this site came from various sources. I do not claim most of these recipes as my own.”
Well great! Except that it’s not even legal to copy a recipe verbatim and give credit, unless you have permission from the publisher, let alone change a few things but not enough and not give credit. How hard would it have been to say, “Adapted from Food & Wine?”
You might be surprised to know she rewrote the method and changed quite a few ingredients for her chicken burrito:
- used half as much boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- specified a sliced onion instead of quartered onion
- added two garlic cloves
- used regular sour cream instead of low fat
- used half as much shredded Monterey Jack
- left out the shredded lettuce
- called for a 1/2 cup guacamole instead of a chopped small avocado.
Even so, Ethan and his wife, both enthusiastic home cooks, recognized the doctored recipe right away. So much for the idea that if you modify a recipe, it’s yours.
The fantasy persists. Last week a student in my food writing class said she consulted a lawyer when she left a restaurant. She had developed all the recipes and the owner said they were his property. The lawyer said no problem. All she had to do was change them a little bit, like add a garlic clove, and the recipe would be hers.
Uh, wrong. Now you can see exactly why, particularly when the recipe is already published.