Adjusting a Recipe Doesn't Make it Yours

Mar 172010
 

chicken-burrito “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.

 

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  232 Responses to “Adjusting a Recipe Doesn't Make it Yours”

  1. I once had to consult the author’s guild about this problem. This was about 20 years ago, so the law may have changed.

    The lawyer told me, “no one owns a recipe, only the language of the recipe. How could anyone publish a recipe for mayonnaise ?”

    • Great to hear from you, Paula. I agree. How could anyone own “1 cup sugar?”

      • I agree from Paula and learned everything I know about writing cookbooks from her. Also, if I fall in love with a recipe and want to use a version of it, my version of it, I like to credit a specific writer or source. It shows I do not live in a vacuum and I like to give credit where it is do. At times, I have followed a recipe and found a way to improve upon it to fit my style of cooking and eating and will be entirely upfront about where it comes from, why I love it and why I changed it. That way everyone wins. It keeps a recipe alive, that the public might otherwise have missed.

  2. I confess I am never quite clear about this issue. In the past I have adapted recipes and published them. I hope I always gave credit too, that would be in my nature, but I may have slipped up in the early stages. But then I have also fretted over it and worried a great deal too. More latterly I was prone to describing my experience with recipes and recommending the book instea d of trying to replicate it. I even had a reader once write and ask me to send them the recipe via email that I had reported on. I refused and she got really upset with me. (copyright issues was my reason, but she didn’t even consider the time it would take to type out the recipe for a stranger). Uhm, maybe this is just one of the reasons why I rarely blog any more.

    • Oh that is a sad story, Sam.

      I can see how it would frustrate readers when you discussed making a dish but didn’t publish the recipe, but on the other hand, it was respectful.

      Many of us miss your blog.

  3. This is such a tricky question. I think about these things all the time as a chef. All recipes are probably ultimately derivative. Who owns an a mayonnaise recipe, indeed, and who owns the recipe for a chicken burrito, especially one with such common ingredients as chicken, onion, sour cream, lettuce and cheese? Yet wording does count…

    • No one owns common recipes like mayonnaise, unless they change it immensely, like David Leite’s milk mayonnaise. His is recognizable and has received lots of attention.

      • Interesting that you should reference David Leite’s milk mayonnaise recipe because in his book, Leite specifically says he was “given the recipe” and in the post he says the chef he got it from “wheedled it out” of yet another chef. So does that mean it is not his? Or because he published it does that make it his?

        • Oh dear, you’ve really got me on this one. I did not look at his book and I have it right here. I guess it’s like Julia Child — he was the first to write it down and publish it for an American audience, so he “owns” that recipe in the sense that the recipe itself is written in an identifiable way because of its uniqueness, not because of copyright law.

          Can you go with that?

          • I can, but I think it just goes to show, recipes are by there nature iterative. I’m all for giving credit, but in my mind, no one really owns a recipe. We rarely ever really start completely from scratch, we are always adapting, it’s just a question of how much.

          • Amy and Dianne, the recipe isn’t mine—I got it from Ilda Vinagre, who got it from someone else. I did tweak it and make it work with American ingredients (different milk, oil, etc.). But from all my research, there hasn’t been a milk mayonnaise recipe in English in the American repertoire—or least that I know of. So do I have the distinction of “bringing” it here, perhaps. Is how the recipe written uniquely mine and my expression. Absolutely. But I look at myself as a member of a relay race. Someone will come along and do something marvelous to it, and THAT iteration will be his or hers, based on mine, based on Ilda’s, based on the chef in Brazil…

  4. According to the Recipe Writer’s Handbook, Ostmann and Baker, legal ownership of recipes is somewhat “murky.”

    The authors assert making 3 MAJOR changes to the recipe can make it your own (would you call the burrito changes major, I don’t think I would), but that you should still credit where credit is due if your inspiration came from a specific recipe. Standard recipes for standards (such as mayonnaise) are exempt for that rule.

    However, the authors cite IACP Ethical Guidelines as saying “when in doubt give credit.”

    The handbook goes on to say that copyright protects the particular manner and form — not the idea itself, so perhaps the ingredients in a recipe aren’t necessarily copyrightable, but the technique and directions may be.

    On the other hand, others dispute that the “methods” are copyrightable.

    I think it’s always best to come clean about your recipe sources or inspirations in the post, headnote or afterword. I know that’s how I’d like to be treated if one of my recipes inspired someone.

    Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes is very knowledgeable about such issues as is David of David Lebovitz.com. You can read what they have to say on the topic here: http://foodblogalliance.com/copyrights/

    • Thanks for quoting these reputable sources. The key here is whether the changes are “major” and what that means. Like you, I don’t think the revised burrito recipe qualifies.

      Yes, it would have helped to say “adapted from” or “inspired by.”

      • I think the real question isn’t “Did this blogger make three major changes?” but rather “Is a chicken burrito recipe a standard?”

        • Yes, some people feel that there is a standard chicken burrito recipe, just as there is with hollandaise. I’m not in that camp. You still have lots of decisions to make: beans or no beans, all meat or beans and rice, cheese or no cheese, chipotle or no chipotle. You can’t make the same argument about hollandaise.

  5. You may think what the blogger did was rude, or even unethical, but it was in no way against the law. Anyone can take a list of ingredients, write up their own instructions and legally call the recipe their own. Think about it, how many recipes for biscuits call for almost exactly the same ingredients? Does that mean only one person can own the recipe?

    The IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) published a guide to ethics that addresses recipe attribution. You can review the ethical guidelines here:
    http://www.iacp.com/associations/7870/files/Ethical%20Guidelines%2009.pdf

    While the guidelines address etiquette, US law is clear, the US Copyright Office states “A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. ” (http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html)

    • I don’t know if the authors can “legally” call it their own. If Food & Wine challenged that recipe in court, they would probably win. But that so rarely happens. It’s more about a code of honor.

      Agreed that some recipes are not owned, as mentioned earlier.

      Thanks for the links to these excellent sources, Amy. They are a critical addition to this post.

  6. I got into a huge discussion about this issue with a much-published Canadian cookbook author (perhaps the legalities are different in the US). Her publisher told her that, legally, if you make 3 changes to a recipe, it’s considered a “new” recipe (even if the changes are using 1/2 tsp salt instead of 1/4 tsp, for instance–though this is different from what Faith says, above). Furthermore, a magazine editor once told me that they considered a recipe “new” if there were 3 ingredient changes PLUS a format change (for instance, baking the batter as muffins instead of a quick bread).

    I remember a legal case a couple of years ago involving a chef in NYC (sorry, can’t remember the name of the restaurant). The chef left to open her/his own place and began to use recipes s/he had used in the first restaurant. When the originator tried to sue the chef, s/he lost the case and was told that no one could “own” rights to a recipe.

    Copyright laws state that you may copy up to 10% of a written work without permission (when I edited a textbook, this was the law according to my publisher; it’s also the premise under which I worked–approved by my supervisor–when I wrote my PhD thesis, and one would assume that the publisher and the university would both be careful about potential lawsuits). This rule would cover one recipe, wouldn’t it? I always assumed that was why food bloggers who reprint recipes without permission aren’t being sued en masse.

    • There is a similar law here in the US about “fair use” where an author can copy a small amount from another work. But copy more and it’s called plagiarism.

      I’ve heard that rule about “3 things” from a big magazine also. I don’t buy it if the changes are small. The format change helps.

      I assume bloggers are not being sued because it’s too much work to go after them. I’m certain that they have been asked to take recipes down, though.

    • No, you don’t have to change ANY ingredients. You can literally use the EXACT same ingredient amounts with no changes, and as long as you write the procedure in your own words, you are completely untouchable. No one can own an ingredient list, no matter how unique.

  7. You know it would just be nice, if someone would say a recipe was inspired by someone else. It would save us all a lot of grief. I have been the victim of this more times than I care to comment. I had about 15 recipes make it into a book, which wasn’t my own. I find this very frustrating, but it seeks a very difficult thing to stay on top of.
    I have found the Food Blog Alliance website to be a wealth of information.

    • That is a terrible story! I hope you went after them, Stephanie.

    • During my travels in Italy over the past few years, I have met many pastry shop owners, chefs and home cooks who shared their secrets with American writers.
      These cooks were very generous and wanted to contribute to a positive project about their culinary traditions. The sad sad sad part is, these shop owners, pastry makers, cooks and others were never credited in the books or given a copy of the final book.
      The authors sometimes publish a recipe inspired by someone else and take full credit for it. I agree with you Stephanie…if you write a recipe that was inspired by someone else (and publish it), you should credit them or include a story about them. I know many Italians who feel a bit cheated and let down by writers who got what they needed but never gave anything back to their sources. I am working on food book about Sicily, and you better believe that many voices will be heard in it along with the recipes! ; )
      Dianne — I LOVE your new book!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for it!
      Renee Restivo
      http://www.soulofsicily.com

  8. My most recent blog post is about a fresh fig ice cream. Perhaps I should be saying the idea for the fig jam base came from Maggie Beer, the basics of the fig jam recipe from David Lebovitz, the basics of the custard base from Epicurious, the combination of fig and cardamom from an old Gourmet Traveller magazine and the addition of Cointreau from the owner’s guide that came with the ice cream maker. I haven’t for the sake of simplicity yet each of these things are true, so the recipe, while being unique to my kitchen has been influenced by a number of sources. Sure, if it comes from just one source and all you are doing is rewording the instructions, it’s easy to attribute a recipe. But attribution quickly becomes very complicated.

    • This is a great example of how we are inspired to create and where inspiration comes from. The good thing about the web is that we can link to sources of inspiration and give them credit that way, whereas it is much harder to do in a book.

  9. I always (and happily) credit the source of the recipes I put on my blog. But my blog is less about the recipes and more about the story, so I paraphrase grandly and write up the recipe in a more conversational format. And I’ve always wondered if that is doing the original authors (Alice Waters, Lindsey Shere, Patricia Wells, Diana Kennedy, Paula Wolfert) a disservice. I haven’t heard anything negative from Lindsey or Patricia, and they read my blog. I didn’t bother asking Alice because she’s not into computers and I’ve never had contact with Diana Kennedy. What’s your take Paula? Would that bother you to be referred to as the source of the recipe (with a link), but have the recipe slightly altered in wording & method? Sorry to co-opt your space Dianne, but I’ve been wondering this other side of your question.

    • No problem. I love it when people talk amongst themselves. And I am not ferklempt (Mike Myers Saturday Night Live allusion).

  10. I was actually pondering this exact issue in my latest post where I cite my adaption of my adaption of my adaption of the original recipe…

    I think with burritos it’s pretty obvious what is a major change or not. However in baking (and especially in GF baking where one uses several more ingredients), several seemingly small changes can result in large differences in quality, taste, and texture, resulting in an end product that is vastly different from the original. Determining what constitutes a “major change” seems to a bit ambiguous to me – it’s always such a tough call. Even when I “make something up”, it is no doubt influenced by my experiences and flavors/dishes I have had in the past, even if I can no longer pin point when or where. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to cite those.

    What if you are adapting from someone else’s adaption? Is it most ethical to cite the entire chain of adapted recipes all the way back to the original? Or just where one found it and the original recipe?

    • Good point. No, it’s too much to cite all the influences. You just have to do your best to make it your own creation, and cite 1 reference if the recipe is based on it.

  11. As a relatively new blogger and a cooking school instructor, I find this whole conversation fascinating. My students often ask if I create my own recipes or if I use other sources. My response typically is a heck of a lot of both. I am not a recipe developer and find it difficult to sit down and measure everything when I cook. I use recipes for inspiration or when I am looking for something to fill a gap in a theme. But, I almost never use the recipe as written and I change the directions about 90% of the time. I either add more to the descriptions or simplify them in order to demonstrate a difficult technique or to add emphasis to the focus of the class. I often change ingredients and don’t feel like I can’t take this creative license.

    After all, how many variations of bechamel sauce can there be? And of the hundreds of cookbooks which provide a recipe for bechamel sauce, do each of them credit the original creator of this recipe? Or mayo? Apparently the jury says that mayo doesn’t need to be attributed to anyone and stands on its own? Does tartar sauce? Hollandaise? Gribiche? And where does it end? Biscuits? Pancakes? Carrot Cake? Mashed Potatoes? Or only with Double Sweet Potato Cake with Creme Fraiche Frosting and a Hint of Lavender and Chocolate Nibs? (Yuck!)

    When I did a series from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, those recipes and ideas were clearly Julia’s. But, instead of three pages of directions written in a fashion I considered difficult to follow, I completely altered all of the directions. And, how many of those recipes were truly hers? Is she the first person to make Boeuf Bourguignon or a Bavarian Cream? There are only so many ways to make chicken soup and each “new” recipe is inspired by someone’s reading of another recipe, a recipe their mother used or something they tasted in a restaurant. While I happily give credit on my blog, I think it is murky why I have too.

    If I change three ingredients do I use “adapted from”? If I omit an ingredient and add in another, is it “inspired by”? If I change one ingredient, add two and rewrite the directions is it “inspired by and adapted from”? And is it inspired by and adapted from the recipe I recently saw in a magazine or inspired by and adapted from the very first time that particular recipe was ever printed?

    In my humble opinion, all recipes come from somewhere else. They are all inspired by someone or something, they are all adapted from and inspired by someone or something. I rarely walk into my kitchen and say I am going to cook something entirely different tonight. Something that has never been made before. Something brilliant. Something unique. Something that will set the world on fire. I use my past experiences. I use my cookbooks. I use my imagination.

    Our shrimp and scallop dinner last night was inspired by Garlic Shrimp. I didn’t get out a cookbook. I didn’t have sliced garlic so I used jarred. I had some scallops so I used those. I didn’t sear the scallops as is typical but just tossed them with the shrimp and served it over rice. I didn’t remove the garlic prior to service. Can I now publish that recipe as my own? I think not. But nor do I feel like if I decided to blog about it, that I would have to attribute it to someone. The list would be long. “Inspired by a Garlic Shrimp recipe once used in a Tapas Class at Foodies in St. Petersburg, Florida which was adapted from a cookbook on tapas read at the public library”.

    Ugh. I always write the longest posts on this site!!

    • Thanks for the long reply, Dawn. I’m sure many readers can relate to your explanation of what inspires you to create.

      Julia was the first to write down French recipes for an American audience. That does not mean she owns the original recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. But certainly, anyone who reads her recipe can recognize it, as it is famous.

      Agreed, all recipes come from somewhere else. But in the example I used, the reader clearly used one recipe as a source for her own, without credit. And that is the issue.

      • Sorry Dianne. Didn’t mean to get so off the subject. : ) As I said, it is something I find fascinating. Where does credit for a recipe begin and where does your own creativity come in. I happily credit where my recipes come from at my school and on my blog.

    • Bravo! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  12. In the example above it seems to me that the blog author’s major crime was not rewriting the instructions for the burrito. My understanding is that is the copyrightable portion of a recipe. It does also seem to be poor blogging form not to give credit to the original source. On my blog I even give credit when I have substantially changed a recipe if it was the only source. However cookbook authors rarely do and they do use other recipes as inspirations.

    I have a major cookbook at home that is often adapted form on my and many other blogs. I also have a cookbook that is a compilation of many chefs recipes that is edited by the chef who wrote the other cookbook. I found a recipe in the compilation that is clearly the inspiration for one of the recipes in the other book. All the original ingredients are there in the same quantities with the addition of 4 ingredients. These 4 ingredients substantially change the end result but the inspiration is also substantial and without it the recipe would not exist.

    So at one point of adjusting is something yours? I asked this question of a recipe contest as I wanted to submit one of my recipes from my blog. They stated that 3 changes were not enough, it needed to also be presented differently so the recipe would not have been previously published. The changes would have turned a gingerbread cupcake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting into a spice cake with the same toppings. I decided to just submit another recipe.

    -Robin

    • She did rewrite the instructions. But when I compared them to the original, they were the same method, in the same paragraphs, just phrased differently. Clearly copied from the original.

      It’s good to hear about a recipe contest that has such strict standards for entry.

      • My understanding of the law is it can be the same method, the steps to cooking a dish cannot be copyrighted either. It is only the words that are used to describe those steps.

        About the recipe contest, the original recipe was mine (or really, my combination of 3 completely separate recipes where I tweaked each one). So I could not enter my recipe as it had already been published. In reality if it was from another source they probably would not have known if a contestant did that, however my own blog would have been a bit obvious.

        I could have redone the recipe as a cake not cupcakes and probably been fine. I just got tired of worrying about it.

        -Robin

        • Do you know where you read this about only words? My understanding is that words themselves are not copyrightable, but the method is, as a block of narrative text. Certainly individual words such as “saute” are not copyrightable.

          • “As a general rule a simple ‘list of ingredients’ s not considered unique enough to be subject to copyright. BUT if the recipe includes a written description/instructions/method of preparation of any significant length, this will be classed as a literary work and will therefore be subject to copyright.” This is part of the presentation on copywrite presented by Jeanne of Cooksister! blog at last year’s Food Blogger Connect conference in London.

            I have also heard that lists of ingredients cannot be copywrited, only the recipe body itself. But this seems to put it on par to plagiarism rules – how much do you need to change something written before it becomes yours?

  13. Amy mentioned that what the blogger did is perfectly legal. Actually, it isn’t… My understanding that she is right that a recipe can be rewritten, but that isn’t what this blogger did. Large sections of the recipe directions were copied and pasted–so there is a clear copyright violation.

    Now, a confession on my part… While I was pretty appalled at how the blogger did not give credit to the recipe’s originator, I do occasionally post recipes on the blog that my wife & I keep. If the author of the recipe ever asked, I’d certainly take the recipe down, but I tend to think (hope) that most cook book authors would be happy (if given credit) to have a recipe posted along with a link to their book on Amazon.

    I know if I were a professional recipe writer, I’d certainly prefer that to someone doing a rewrite on my recipe just to get around copyright laws–even if I was given credit in the rewrite, I might feel odd since in all likelihood my carefully written recipe has been transmogrified into an awkwardly written, amateurish recipe.

    • Hi Ethan! Thanks again for sending me the email that inspired this post.

      Now you know from the responses that most published authors are not happy to see their recipes online in other people’s blogs. It is okay for you to do so with the publisher’s permission, but not without. So yes, technically, you would have to take them down. Sorry.

      • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this since posting that comment.

        Maybe what I’ll do is take down the recipes I’ve posted. And then wait until I’ve made a recipe so often that I make it from memory and at that point post it in my own words. That way, it’ll definitely not be copyrighted text (my memory isn’t that good), will probably have actually mutated a bit into my own style. And, of course, I’ll give credit to the original recipe.

        • I knew you’d do the right thing. Don’t forget to measure it all and take notes so you can write up an accurate recipe. XO.

  14. How can anyone own a recipe? We share recipes. They have been passed down for generations. Over the years I have acquired ones that I would never even consider changing. They don’t need changes. They’re perfect the way they are. But, what if I want to share these exact same recipes on a blog, for instance? I would first need to obtain the necessary permission and credit the appropriate sources. This is what I am required to do (copyright law and ethics) and it is also the polite thing to do (etiquette), especially in a case where my best friend or dear aunt entrusted me with one of her most treasured recipes.

    It is my understanding, however, that if I choose to, I can take what is called basic common knowledge, change it in any way I please and it becomes my own unique creation. There are basic recipes for just about everything out there that are considered to be common knowledge. A simple recipe for a vinaigrette is a perfect example. The basic components might be 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon, lime or orange juice, etc.) and 2 parts oil (olive oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, etc.) So, if I find a recipe I really like, I can make changes to it by varying the components, as long as the ratio always stays the same. I can even add ingredients such as herbs and spices. Now the recipe is my own unique creation, especially if I include my own method. If I decide to share my glorious new creation on the internet , however, good luck. As far as I know, anyone could take my exact recipe, call it their own and use it anyway they please, unless, for instance, it is already protected under copyright law.

    I was really happy when Michael Ruhlman came out with his book, “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking”. It is a Godsend for someone like me who wants to create my own masterpieces and share them with the world.

  15. The simple fact is that if you change the actual ingredients- it’s a different recipe. HOWEVER, if you don’t change the actual directions (which is what I suspect was recognizable about the recipe) that’s where there’s a problem.

    So as long as food bloggers actually rewrite the directions, there’s no legal ground for someone to stand on.

    But it does bother me when people don’t credit where recipes came from. I know that so many people credit Pioneer Women for recipes that she’s even posted came from somewhere else. If I’ve worked long and hard to perfect my own recipe, I don’t want someone to get the credit for my work just because they didn’t feel like adding a link.

  16. When I post recipes (even ones from Food Network’s site), I tend to rewrite the directions- because for the most part, I don’t find them clear. But I still give credit for the original author of the recipe- because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been making it.

    It’s true. There are many things that it seems silly to claim as someone’s. But Julia Child’s recipe for mayonnaise is her recipe for mayonnaise. She labored over the working and technique and because of that, I give her credit. Do I believe that only Julia Child can have a recipe for mayo? Nah. But so long as it’s her method that I’m putting out there, then I’ll credit her.

  17. On the “fantasy persists” I agree with the lawyer, as I have never heard of a law yet, stating one can’t make recipes created at one place, elsewhere, or adapt them to work for her in a different situation. It’s done in every restaurant, by every chef. We don’t arrive in new kitchens completely stripped of our previous knowledge and influences, but perhaps most chefs would probably give credit when due, like oh, this is the “such and such” chocolate torte. They might even adapt it, purely because that’s what creative chef’s like to do-they make changes according to whim, season, feeling that day, etc. I doubt the restaurant would have a case, based on the copyright laws stated–list of ingredients not being copyrightable.

    We see “adapted” recipes everywhere, even on sites such as Epicurious and in magazines, so whose to know where they came from originally. I guess we owe much of our knowledge about cooking and mother sauces to the earliest chefs known to our time.

    Getting all ruffled over a burrito seems silly to me. It’s all in the salsa, anyway–see the NY Times food section this week.

  18. So, I think we have two issues here, a legal one, and a question of etiquette.

    Legal issue: It’s the wording of the recipe method (“literary expression”) that’s protected, not the ingredient list. Write it up in your own words and style and it’s legally yours. If you copy exactly, include attribution, and don’t quote more than 10% of a collection.

    Etiquette issue: If you borrow strongly from a recipe (or maybe two–one for the cake and one for the frosting, for example), have the courtesy to credit the source from which you adapted your recipe. Was that person also inspired / influenced by another source? Probably. But I don’t think you are required, even by ethical standards, to research the recipe’s history.

  19. It may not be ethical (I certainly don’t think it’s ethical to not link to the original recipe if I am posting an adaptation) but it is totally legal to use the exact same list of ingredients as someone else as long as you change the “creative content” which believe it or not isn’t the ingredient list but instead is the directions and any blurb relating to the recipe. Any copyright lawyer will tell you this. You simply cannot copyright an ingredient list.

    But the only ethical approach is to attribute and link in addition to making significant changes, in my opinion.

    • Agreed and well put. It may be legal to use the same list, but in the minds of most published authors, it is not ethical.

  20. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble but unless your name is Eve and you were cooking in the Garden of Eden, no recipe is original. There are only x number of ingredients in the world and only a few ways to say “heat a sauté” pan. Who cares anyway, the joy is or should be in sharing recipes. I am thrilled when people use and copy my recipes (and yes, I have published a cookbook.) Really, be logical here, there must be 100’s of recipes for Burritos or tacos or whatever, how many ways can they really be different when they use the same basic ingredients. Get over yourselves for heavens sake!

    • You are entitled to your point of view, but most recipe writers are not thrilled when people copy their recipes and claim them as their own.

    • You are entitled to your point of view. Most recipe writers, however, are not thrilled when people copy their recipes and claim them as their own.

    • I have to say I get where Foodie is coming from. I’ve had two incidents that illustrate how it’s hard for one person to lay claim to a recipe. Several months ago, I received an email from another food blogger telling me to remove ‘her’ recipe from my blog.

      I denied her request as I had been making that dish, though modified, from a recipe that I’ve had for over 30 years. The blogger would have had to have been five to have created that dish!

      And then a couple of weeks ago, as often happens…dinner was what I could throw together. As the story goes, I wanted a BLT, had no bread, so substituted pasta and topped it with bleu cheese instead of parmesan and had ‘created’ my own Bacon Tomato Pasta dish!

      I got a pingback a couple of days later from a site with an almost identical dish but the instructions were in a language I could not understand; I actually thought it an interesting example of this very issue. Some guy somewhere speaking a language I can not read or understand mixed almost identical ingredients together; does one of us own this recipe? Hardly…I just think there are too many people in this world to think that no one else is EVER going to blend the same ingredients in the same way.

      That being said, I’m not justifying a cut and paste of what someone else has done but in general I think the very reason that copyright law on recipes is written as it is addresses this very issue; just too many people cooking to presume that only ONE would ever put together a unique combination of ingredients never considered by another.

  21. Such a relevant and interesting topic!

    First, I must say i have your food writing book and love it – was given to me by a friend when she knew I started a blog. i haven’t been to your blog before, so I had to comment on that first!

    when I started blogging (a year ago!) i didn’t know the ins and outs, but i started to notice on other blogs that recipes were always given credit even if tweaked, and since most of my recipes at least started from other recipes (bon appetit, F&W, cooking light, other blogs, etc), I went back and ensured i’d given credit to them all and to this day, i’m pretty hard-core about it. even if i alter every ingredient, i’ll say “inspired by blank”, or even if a change a lot, “loosely adapted from blank”. i think you are required to give some sort of credit.

    the hard part, is that so many recipes out there are very similar, and certainly even the best chefs start with a recipe from somewhere that they may never credit. i actually posted a recipe for sweet potato gnocchi that I definitely didn’t pull from one recipe, rather i did some research and then made it myself. someone told me it was “identical to giada’s recipe”, which i looked up and it wasn’t. wasn’t even close. but that’s exactly my point.

    i had another guy comment once (similar to your friend here) that i copied from another site and didn’t give credit. he was actually right, and i appreciated it b/c i totally forgot, and i went back and changed it. problem is, is that he was ultra rude about it, called me a “phony”, and didn’t bother to also acknowledge that, out of 100 recipes, that was the ONE i’d forgotten. so i thanked him and corrected it, but also pointed out he was ruder than he needed to be, and that i always give credit and it was a simple mistake. he didn’t reply :).

    but someone who never gives credit? i think they just don’t know they should, and could benefit from a “blogger 101″ comment/link! but how do you do that without ruffling feathers? or should you ruffle feathers??

    • I’m a big fan of ruffling feathers, but in a nice way. You could always send that blogger an email and suggest he or she read..this post and comments! They will give her an education.

  22. Dear Dianne,

    It is just this kind of conversation that makes your blog so valuable!

    I found something by Jane Grigson in an old file. I apologize for not knowing its exact source (!) It was dated March 3, 1990 and addressed to Eleo (?) and pertains to JG’s recipe for Moules a l’Escargot

    “Dear Eleo,
    I really do not mind if anyone uses any of my recipes, so long as there’s an acknowledgment.
    In fact surely anyone can use anyone’s recipe, so long as they rewrite it, with or without acknowledgement? I rather deplore the habit that has grown up of having to write round to ask permission–it adds to the labour of the book and fulfills no legal obligation. In fact, the person quoted ought to be grateful for the free publicity, and humbly recollect the number of times they have pilfered from fellow writers past and present. In cooking originality is rare, it’s all a matter of adjustment and balance and I certainly did not invent moules farcies. I suppose the honour ought to go to Melanie, that Breton cook discovered by Curnonsky, and her praires farcies which has become a standard dish of French cookery outside Brittanny as well, and which has been adapted to mussels/oysters/other clams.”

    A case in point I have often struggled with: Several years ago I discovered Paula Wolfert’s recipe for polenta made in the oven (again, can’t remember exact source, sorry!) She very kindly attributed her discovery to the back of a package of polenta. I have often thought it would be wonderful to share an adapted version in a book of readers who
    1) think polenta is too time consuming and intimidating
    2) probably (and sadly) are not familiar with Paula’s books because they are just learning to cook, or are too young.

    I’d always assumed that if I wanted to use it, I would want to (but maybe not have to?) get her permission. Certainly I would want to attribute it to her and introduce readers to her book at the same time. I don’t know why this method hasn’t caught on, but it should be shouted from the rooftops for all lazy lovers of polenta!

    • Sally, I love this! Thank you so much. It shows that professional cookbook writers are a generous and humble lot. But they can also be fierce about protecting their work, as Paula Wolfert herself said earlier on this blog.

  23. While I cannot comment on the legal aspects – although the discussion is fascinating to a nerd like me – I do think that we also need to mention etiquette a little more strongly here. Bloggers, in particular, all have an individual notion of proper credit and what they will and will not post. Can’t speak for anyone else, but this is my approach.

    If I am trying something new I go about it one of three ways – 1. I entirely make it up as I go (and don’t generally take notes of intend to share a finished recipe).
    2. I get a hankering to make something and so I search though any versions I can find in my cookbooks or on-line. Then I will either make my own version or work with another recipe.
    3. I decide that I need to make THAT and follow the recipe to the T.

    When it comes to actually sharing that recipe, in the first case I will make it a few times and share the recipe. If there was an influence for the tastes or ingredients I will happily share that. In the second case I was always give credit where credit is due whether I’ve adapted (and it may only be a small substitution) one of three recipes. But I always write the recipe in my own voice. And in third case, I never post the recipe myself. If it is available on-line from the original source I will link to it, but not to someone else’s copy.

    I adore hearing that people have had success, and even failures, with my recipes whether they be published online or in print. I want the respect, so I think we need to give it as well.

  24. Hi Dianne,
    Maybe the key word here is experience – professional food writers, chefs and many gifted home cooks generally have a much wider frame of reference when it comes to creating recipes. That includes various culinary techniques, familiarity with raw ingredients and what happens to them when they come in contact with heat, at least a nodding acquaintance with different world cuisines, and a collection of out of print and contemporary cookbooks that threatens to take over the house. As with art, of course you’re influenced by what has gone before, but you get to the point where you like to paint your own pictures.
    I’m sure that amateur food bloggers all mean well, but you’re right. Adding a grating of nutmeg does not suddenly make a recipe your creation!

    • Yes, I think that is of critical importance: to have many influences instead of one. Using one was the blogger’s downfall.

  25. Interesting topic!
    I’m glad I found your site.

    I agree that it is a bit rude to claim someone’s recipe (or photo, or design) for your own without a credit. Then again, the above recipe doesn’t seem totally creative to me to begin with. Like mayo, a chicken burrito doesn’t have an impressive amount of possible ingredients, and it is possible (though of course unlikely) that the accused only came up with a very similar recipe.

    Or perhaps she read Food and Wine three weeks ago and all the info stuck in her brain and then she came up with her amazing creation. Who knows!

    Which is why it is legal. As one commenter says, there are only a certain amount of ingredients in the world and we’re bound to find duplicates. Great! That way many people will enjoy the food&wine recipe, not just the subscribers.

    Recipes, imo, are like great ideas of combinations. Forget about the exact amounts of all the ingredients, let’s just think about ingredients and how awesome it is when you find an amazing combination.

    Why do we need to “own” recipes? Isn’t food writing about a presentation of topic in a pleasing way? Aren’t we all about our own goals (vegetarianism, raw foodism, eating cheap, eating healthy, organic eating, eating with style, cooking quickly, slow food eating, etc), and the promotion of our values, over the ownership of our ideas for simple combinations of ingredients?

    Let’s cook, enjoy the ingredients, and share.

    • The wording is too close to be anything other than copying. Even Ethan and his wife, who are not food professionals, could figure that out.

      People protect their recipes because they make their living creating them, just as others create books and works of art. It’s not right to steal recipes by replicating them, whether doing so without permission, credit or pay.

  26. Now that I’ve waited for more comments to come in I’m ready to post my own.

    How do we know that the blogger in question used a recipe from F&W? As we’ve seen in many of the comments, how many truly original recipes don’t come along everyday, but more importantly, how do we know this blogger used a F&W recipe? Was the “original” recipe so unique that no one had ever made it before? Is it possible that the blogger found it somewhere else? Perhaps where F&W found their inspiration for the recipe?

    I struggle with this issue as well, as I noted when I raised my hand in that first presentation at Food Blogger Camp and asked about attribution. I either write a recipe myself and post it (not often) or I link to the recipe when using someone else’s recipe.

    I don’t even know how I’d go about finding the few recipes I have created on my own being posted somewhere else, and while that would probably make me pretty darn angry, stealing my photos would make my blood boil and I suspect that happens to some people a lot.

    Quite a number of years ago when I moved back from India I was using the Sony Image Station product to store and post my expat life photos. One day while I was browsing through their library of millions of photos I found a couple of mine posted by some guy who claimed them as his own. I looked at them and looked at them to be sure they were mine and it was clear. While I didn’t watermark them, those bedraggled tigers in Bangalore and the guy wrapping his turban after a bath in Lake Pichola in Udaipur were unmistakably mine.

    I wrote to Sony and their reply, although quick was simply that I could make a case, but it would require a lawyer. I wrote to the offending photo thief, but of course there was no response.

    It looked as though the creep was using the tiger shot for commercial use and I’d probably win in that case, but win what? I couldn’t see justifying the expense of a long, drawn out case against this guy that was apparently trying to get people into his shop using other’s photos, at least one of which was mine.

    This subject is wide open. If you look at the live streaming video industry they too have this issue, but it seems more rampant. First run movies, just released that day can be seen in high def for free while some of us are paying $10 or more to see the same movie in the cinema. I’m not sure how this stuff, be it recipes, photos, or video can ever be efficiently or effectively policed.

    Take down notices are the norm in the live streaming video world, perhaps there needs to be something simliar in the written word world?

    • I don’t know where the author of the Food & Wine recipe got her inspiration, but I don’t think it’s possible the blogger found it somewhere else. Her recipe is too close to the original.

      Re someone stealing your photos, I don’t think it’s quite the same thing. For one thing, people can copyright their photos, whereas they can’t copyright a recipe. Plus, I don’t think you were a professional photographer who made a living getting paid for photos; whereas freelance recipe writers and cookbook authors do.

      But I agree that it’s difficult to effectively police these things. People do ask to have their work taken off websites. I don’t know how effective they are.

  27. Hi Dianne,

    I can’t tell you how valuable I find your blog and the discussions your posts spark. Since I haven’t seen this particular issue discussed, I thought I’d bring it up. I have some recipes that I am sure originally came from Bon Appetit, Gourmet, etc. but I don’t know which magazine (the recipes were ones my mother used and she is no longer with us so I can’t ask her and she didn’t document their origins) and I can’t find them on their respective websites. Some of these are excellent recipes and I would like to share them but I am not sure how to reference them since I really don’t know where they came from. Any guidance you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

    • Thanks, Nancy.

      This happens to people all the time. You can only use the ingredients list verbatim. Change the method and headnote. And the best thing to say would be to tell people how you came upon the recipe and don’t know its origin.

      • Thanks Diane!!

        As a rule, I always change the wording of the directions and more often than not alter them. I like the idea of sharing how I got the recipe. Who knows, maybe someday someone will read one of my posts and be able to tell me where the recipe actually came from!!!

  28. We try as much as possible to attribute where we got a recipe from. Most of the time, we’ll change the way we present the method, to suit our style. Sometimes, we don’t know where we got the recipe, as it was written by hand on notepaper rather than clipped, tagged or bookmarked.

    One interesting story: we had posted a recipe that we adapted from a cookbook (which we credited). The author actually contacted us, not to ask us to take it down, but to thank us for putting it up. She had actually been looking for the recipe herself, as she had lost her copy.

  29. I think, when I am looking for recipes myself, trust is an important factor. There are quite a few blogs or websites which I have learnt are infallible. If that’s that, then why not build trust when it comes to your hobbies, passions, or livelihoods? Your blogs, your recipes? Of course, attribute the source.

    However, another aspect to this could be those recipes coming down the line through mothers and grandma’s. A written, copyrighted recipe never existed. Or perhaps.. one of your favourite, many-times-made dish that of course started with some recipe but evolved, modified, or simply copied as it is into your gray cells entirely – and the names behind it forgotten.

    Whose are those recipes? Am curious to know what would be the way out then?

    • If you evolved the recipe eover the years, it is yours now. If your grandmother wrote down a recipe, and you still make it verbatim but have no idea where it came from, then it is not yours. You have to try to find the origin or say in the headnote where it came from.

  30. An interesting spin on this debate… I’m not sure how many people heard about this when it happened a couple of years ago. Apparently a blogger took a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (of America’s Test Kitchen) and changed a number of things to suit her tastes, posted the recipe and said “Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated”. Well, she was contacted by the PR department at Cook’s Illustrated, who demanded she remove the recipe. Their reasoning was that they spend days/weeks/months making the “perfect” recipe and that they don’t want any modifications or adaptations linked to them, since it is then not their “perfect” recipe anymore. The blogger at the time posted all of the correspondence back and forth but the site has since gone dead.

    A lot of people were up in arms for a couple of reasons: (1) What the blogger did was both legal and ethical; and (2) America’s Test Kitchens doesn’t create the recipes from scratch either, as they talk about the different recipes they test, change, etc. As others have mentioned, all recipes are an evolution; and (3) This PR person could not have been more rude or bully-like.

    I thought it was a really interesting example of when a publisher does NOT want anything altered and attributed back to them. They stated that if the recipe had been written exactly as they had published it, they would not have a problem with it.

    • Fascinating story! Thanks, Michelle.

      Cook’s Illustrated is different from other national food magazines in a few ways. 1) I don’t think they take any freelance 2) they write about the process, not just the end result. I wonder if those reasons had any bearing on their insistence that she not modify the recipe?

  31. If adjusting a recipe doesn’t make it yours then no one can claim a recipe as theirs. Every single recipe in existence is an adaptation of a previous recipe. I have a huge cookbook collection and have many recipes for lemon tarts. All of them are just variations on a theme. The theme belongs to no one. Martha Stewart’s recipe is only a little different from the recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. The ingredients are all essentially the same with only MINOR differences. What makes me use one over another is the clarity of directions and I’d say that even in this case there are only so many methods for making a great lemon tart.

    If I use a recipe from a professional cookbook writer, and I remove an ingredient I don’t like- and increase another ingredient like salt, and add something that wasn’t in the original, like nutmeg…how on earth could anyone say that’s not mine? I just made a new version that is different from the original. That is how people create their own recipes which are, as I said, always versions of some earlier recipe of someone else’s.

    I like to give credit to the professionals that inspire me and I would never publish a recipe for which I didn’t write my own instructions but I think people get a little bit ridiculous about their idea of what constitutes substantial change in a recipe- 3 ingredients aren’t enough change? Even changing salt content can significantly alter the taste and experience of a food. And in the end, the recipes are about creating tastes- any ingredient that, when changed, changes the taste of a recipe changes the experience as well, and if you’ve changed the experience a person will have when tasting that recipe then you’ve made it your own.

    • It’s one thing to create a dish and another to write down how you did it. What makes the recipe yours is the exact wording e of the headnote and the method. If someone copies it verbatim it is plagiarism. If someone rewrites it but it is still recognizable as yours, I guess that’s an issue for the lawyers.

      • Ok – so I do not see what this author did wrong…however minimal these changes seem to you, they would make integral changes to both the flavor AND presentation of the final dish. So, unless she used the exact procedure list…what’s the problem???

    • My thoughts EXACTLY!!!!

  32. We’ve used others’ recipes on our blog, but ALWAYS credit the source, ALWAYS get permission or not publish, and try to provide a link to either the original posting or, at least, the author’s website. Don’t see how you can do less.
    The issue that we do inadvertently face is that, since we allow others to post recipes, we can never be sure where or from whom they might have picked it up.
    There’s an interesting parallel in pottery (we’re potters-Clay Coyote Pottery). Potters trade glaze recipes regularly. Often the originator’s name gets put on the glaze name. But nobody seems too hung up on attribution.

    • Well, if people need permission before posting on your site, you could ask them about the origins of their recipes. But that creates administration issues, which may not interest you. Kind of a tough one.

      Putting a name on the glass constitutes attribution. That’s a lovely gesture, and respectful.

      • I’m going to add a “submission notes” box on the recipe submission form on the claycoyoteblog.com . I realize some won’t attribute, but at least their name is attached. I certainly don’t mind the administrative side, since I edit before posting anyway and often add a personal note. Most cooks, and people, are (I hope and think) pretty open about things like this.
        Last weekend I took two of Paula Wolfert’s recipes and combined them into one. The objective was to try her corn polenta couscous with 7 vegetables recipe (Paula’s original soon to be posted on the blog) but I didn’t have all the spices as the recipe calls for. It wasn’t authentic, but it sure was good!

  33. I actually agree with everyone here who says that recipes are passed down and around, that no recipe is truly original, that as cooks and bakers we are inspired by others’ recipes, take bits and pieces of different recipes and put them together to create new ones, etc etc. The thing is, what we may be talking about here is simple blogger courtesy. I mean, most of us post recipes on our blogs as a way to share what we are cooking with others, pass along a great recipe. Yes, I do think that it is simple courtesy to give credit where credit is due whether we used another’s recipe exactly, were inspired by one or adapted it. I do this.

    On the other hand, the story changes drastically, I believe, if someone is using one of those recipes for financial profit, publishing a cookbook, say. Then I think one should be held responsible to a higher order. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, I always give credit and I certainly hope if other bloggers use a recipe from my blog they have the respect to do the same. Should we hold the simple blogger to the same tough rules or simply nudge them and request credit?

  34. I stumbled across this website while researching query letter techniques for first time cookbook publishers. I found this fascinating but people, isn’t the reason why we love to cook, and write cookbooks and share recipes is because we love the satisfaction of providing joy and delicious food to the recipient. As a lawyer/cook I find our society far too litigious. Most of us started out in this field to share our great food! Lets continue to feed our loved ones and not worry so much about who gets credit for what! Credit is always appreciated but we have become so delicate as a society that there seems to be a preoccupation with redress for any and every imagined slight. By the way, great blog!

  35. Hi …

    I just read the post… and I really don’t see the huge deal…
    I agree with Laura above… I cook and bake a lot and NEVER create my own recipes– I made adapt while I’m cooking baking (which is normal) but I never write it down or keep track of the modifications…
    I get my recipes from the countless online blogs and cooking websites available to us, THANKFULLY, because someone has taken the time to post them… share them with all of us.. and I am eternally grateful for this… I also have tons of cookbooks that I own but looking up something online and reading the reviews (if there are any) for me, is preferable.
    If I take my own pics of what I made and post them on my blog with the recipe, I always link to the site where I originally got the recipe.. It’s NOT a secret… it’s there for everyone to read and use…
    I think it’s nice to give credit to the person who posted the recipe… but for me to even KNOW that they were the original authors of the recipe or someone that just copied it from a book or got it from another person is not important to me.
    I think it’s great that people with food blogs LOVE to share their recipes and I haven’t seen anyone post on their site that you have to give credit if you post the recipe on your own.. I think it’s blogging courtesy that we give credit to someone else for what they have done .. That’s normal!!

    • Linking to the recipe is a great idea. It tells the reader that you got it from somewhere and you’re not shy about saying where.

  36. This discussion thread has left me thinking is how easy it is to underestimate the amount of work that goes into writing down a recipe.

    Anyone who read or watched “Julie & Julia” may remember how Julia Child was not happy with Julie’s year-long project to make every recipe in “Mastering the Art.”

    To some this may seem like Julia Child wasn’t being a very good sport, but I completely understood where she was coming from (especially after reading her memoir, “My Life in France”).

    Julia Child spent years & years of non-stop effort trying to perfect and write down those recipes. Some of the recipes she made hundreds of times trying to come up with the perfect way to make it (and to describe the process of making it).

    After all the effort & sacrifice, it is easy to understand how it might not be amusing to have someone present making each recipe once as a monumental task.

    I’ve tried to standardize a few recipes–ones that I learned aurally as a Szechuan line chef. It is hard! Even though I know those recipes intimately (having made them thousands of times in the restaurant), figuring out precise measurements was a lot of work.

    This is all to say that when we adapt recipes (which I certainly do all the time), we should recognize that it’s a lot easier to adjust/adapt/perfect a recipe than it is put it down on paper in the first place.

    • I didn’t know you worked at a Szechuan restaurant, Ethan! Will have to hear that story sometime.

      I never thought about that aspect of Powell’s blog, that it was an effort to make many of the dishes just once. I can see why J. Child was not amused. I thought she referred to Powell’s blog, when she finally read it, as the work of an “amateur.”

      It’s definitely easier to make food than to write it down, and those of us who like to cook don’t like to write it down anyway. Owen often comments when I make something he really likes that, because I did not record it, it won’t ever come out the same way again.

      • Not coming out the same is a problem i have been dealing with too…but it is also a reason for me to actually try to write them down.

        It’s a thin line…I give credit where credit is due, but there might be recipes on my blog that someone will think of: “Hey that’s my recipe he is adapting here.”, while i may not even have read their original recipe. There are a lot of cookbooks, food blogs and magazines out there…:-)

  37. This is interesting. Many large websites (and I mean MANY) steal their recipes from other sites without any permission or consequences. They actually create programs that “scrape” other recipe sites for their content, reformat them automatically (or hire interns to do it manually) and then repost the recipes as their own. I won’t name any names, but this is a common practice.

    This is a problem on many fronts: one, they’re not giving credit to the creator, and two, they don’t know if the recipe works. They could (and probably are) posting thousands of crappy dishes that either taste terrible or are completely incomprehensible instruction-wise.

    At what point does a recipe because public domain? Is that even a possibility?

    • I don’t know if a recipe ever becomes public domain, unless it’s for something so commonplace that it no longer belongs to anyone, like how to make a white sauce.

      Re these sites, I guess so far, they’re getting away with it. I’m sure some authors have contacted them and asked to take the recipes down.

  38. Shortly after reading this post I came across a blogpost that had a recipe with fresh peaches with mozarella and prosciutto, well they used pata negra. I KNOW for a fact that this one is a Jamie Oliver dish, yet the author let out the impression that he just tossed something together…How can you tell the difference between dumb coincidence and pure plagiarism?

    • Very good question. You could contact the blogger with a link to Jamie’s recipe and say you’re confused. Better than nothing.

  39. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion on this thread over what is legal on the one hand and what is moral, decent, and fair on the other. Formulas (list of ingredients) are not protected under copyright law. The language used to describe how to use a formula (list of ingredients) to make a dish is protected. No one has a legal right to reprint or distribute your original text without your permission. Nevertheless, it happens all the time on food blogs.

    I am particularly dismayed to see bloggers use another’s recipe nearly verbatim and then give an almost offhand reference link to the original recipe. I always trace back to the original recipe and reference, tweet, or stumble it instead of the copycat. I have seen others blog my recipes verbatim and also seen them rewrite the directions in their own words. One is illegal and the other “merely” dishonest. Both harm the original creator.

    Nevertheless, it does become difficult when one is, say, working on a chocolate cake and in that research consults several resources, and then through many rounds of testing perfects the formula that was not quite right in the other instances. Something new is thus created.

    Regardless, generosity, gratitude, and respect for other’s creative work are their own reward.

  40. […] read a long post the other day by Dianne Jacob about this very thing — where recipes come from, and how we should attribute. It’s […]

  41. I’m sorry, but the whole discussion is ludicrous. There are only so many ways to make a chicken burrito and still have it be a chicken burrito. The “changes” you cite make the recipe in question very very different from the recipe you are assuming is the original. Not only are proportions vastly different, the list of ingredients isn’t even the same.

    I “recognize” nearly every recipe for a chicken burrito I have ever read in that list of ingredients.

    The blogger who posted the recipe you’re complaining about did nothing wrong. The problem here isn’t “theft of intellectual property”. It’s the mistaken, ego-centered notion that anyone can own a recipe to the extent that any other recipe for the same item must be assumed to ALSO be your intellectual property.

    Even when half the ingredients are different and the rest are in totally different proportion.

    LOL!

    • It’s true that no one can own a recipe. However, rewriting it in such an obvious way is unprofessional. We can agree to disagree on that.

  42. I contacted the copyright office before I started, and they said only the method needs to be in your words. With the countless number of people creating recipes, for books, for families, for blogs, it’s inevitable you’ll copy something. I’ve seen people over and over copy recipes from big sites and little ones, and never give credit. Nothings original, except your voice, in the grand scheme of things. I happily accept when people copy my recipes, as long as they link me, I need the links. If I’m not linked, that’s a different story. This is blogging. Linking, networking, is what helps us grow. When you create simple recipes, for sure you’ve copied somebody, like pesto. Why would I ever attribute every pesto recipe that is close to mine. That could be a countless number and an impossible task.

    • Re what the copyright office said, I can guarantee you that if you copied someone’s headnote word-for-word, that would be a problem. I have no idea why they would not mention that.

      As you say, it’s important to write the recipe in your own words, and give credit and links.

      Some recipes, like pesto, are universal and it is impossible to say who the originator of it is. I don’t think anyone worries about recipes like that being copied.

  43. […] No professionals in the food world will look kindly at people who “borrow heavily” from other recipes. Ingredients are not subject copyright, but accompanying copy is. See: Adjusting A Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours. […]

  44. In light of the recent brouhaha over Cooks Source Magazine’s evident plagiarism of a food blogger’s article, I’m wondering if you can address the issue of copyright when you have sourced someone else’s material. For instance, I’m launching a blog that relies on using sourced recipes. I always credit the source, and where applicable, include links to sites like Amazon and Powell’s when mentioning a cookbook. But the rest of the material is mine. WordPress suggests including copyright language on the sidebar and at the end of each piece, but is this acceptable if you are using someone else’s material?

    • As long as you don’t put much of the content on your site, and make it a link to the sourced recipe, you are probably okay. For an example, see how FoodPress does it.

      Re copyright, I really don’t know if you can copyright the WordPress page based on other people’s material. It’s a good question. You would have to consult a copyright lawyer, if you are so inclined.

      I have mixed feelings about making money off other people’s work. On one hand I think it’s brilliant, on the other, unfair to the writers.

  45. When I first got into the food business, as an assistant in the culinary program at the Dallas Sur La Table, I assisted 100’s of visiting chef instructors. One, in particular, Jeff Blank, a well-known chef and cookbook author near Austin said that if you change three things in a recipe, it’s yours. Over the past seven years as the chef instructor of my own culinary school, I research thousands of recipes for use in classes. I almost always change something after testing – ingredients, directions, language, presentation, etc. I still always give credit to the original source, using the “adapted from” . It’s just the right thing to do.

    • That saying has been going around for a long time, but I don’t buy it. I think you need to go a lot further. If you only change three things, you should say whom you adapted the recipe from. You’re correct that it’s the right thing to do.

  46. I do not remember where I read this (I really should go back looking for it) but they were talking about food writing/blogging legal issues vs etiquette and the big point made was that nobody can own a recipe (in terms of ingredients). What you can own (i.e. have property rights/intellectual property) is the method, i.e. how the method is written and the wording of the method. i tend to agree with this. In fact, if you think about a pie crust or a tart crust or pasta frolla….the ingredients are the usual 4-5-6 max. Who would own them? Whom should we give credit to (unless there was a particular tweak)? If instead you just copy and paste the whole method, well, you could at least put some effort in re-wording. The conclusion was that it’s not a legal matter but a moral (etiquette) one.

  47. This issue seems like a tangled web. Especially since I have three links now to check out and no indication of where the path is leading.
    T’would be nice if it were cut and dry, but I suspect it never will be. There are many recipes that are just so similarly presented and considered “classic” dishes that there aren’t really many variations. Can’t imagine many people claiming pizza recipes to be their own, but each is slightly different.

  48. Dianne, along this conversation thread I have a question. I have been blogging now over a year and am always very careful to give credit. I too believe that is very important. I loved your book and it has helped me a great deal. It is highlighted and filled with sticky notes. I am still unsure about this and want to do what is right. I am just completing a post and have permission to use the authors original recipe. I have made edits to her recipe to bring it closer to what I remember eating in Italy, but I am using much of her directions. I plan to give credit to the author and her cookbook and list my edits. Should I still put her copyright at the end, with a note on my edits? Or is it enough that I give her credit, list the cook book (and I do hotlinks to the authors site and book). Thanks for the guidance.

    • Thank you, Sally. Always happy to hear from a reader who has marked up my book.

      If you have permission to use her recipe, please publish it verbatim. Do not edit it. You can say elsewhere what you would change.

      Giving credit to the author and the cookbook is enough. No reason to put a copyright.

  49. Forgive me if someone has already asked this question, but what is proper etiquette for posting a recipe that you find on a “community” recipe website? For example, I was looking for an easy Pumpkin Bread recipe, and found one on a popular site (no particular author was cited). I did make one minor change (changed a spice), but very clearly stated where I found the recipe and linked to it on the website. About a year later, I used the same recipe in another dish that was inspired by a restaurant that I saw on the Food Network. I stated that this dish was inspired by their creation, and linked both to their website and the meu. I also linked, yet again, back to the orginial Pumpkin Bread recipe that I used in the new dish. Have I done anything incorrectly? Thanks for the guidance, this information has been very thought-provoking and helpful!

    • Were evaluated in 13 ventolin online patients.

      I think you’ve done all you could, other than truly changing the pumpkin bread recipe. If you have my book, read how Alice Medrich approaches developing a recipe in the recipe writing chapter. It’s an art form.

  50. Regarding your post “Should Bloggers be Praised for Recipes They Don’t Write” (I’ve not read other comments on the post, mind you): My understanding is that only the recipe introduction and the method or directions of a recipe can be copywrited. The ingredients and amounts are for anyone’s taking. This is from a recipe writing seminar I attended years ago. I’m sure other professionals agree. And giving credit is key. Love your blog Dianne!

    • Yes, that’s correct, Rita, and the method is not automatically copyrightable — it depends on how individualized it is, vs. standard comments such as “bake until done.”

  51. Are we to presume that Julia Child invented all of her classic French recipes? Not by a long shot. She spent plenty of time being taught them by other experts.

    I think it’s interesting that well-known writers (many of whom have a battery of recipe developers creating the ideas THEY claim) are allowed to publish without crediting anyone, but bloggers are asked to do so.

    A bit of snobbery perhaps?

    • She was the first to write them down for an American audience, in English.

      Nope. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  52. I know this is a an old post and basically a tree falling in an uninhibited forest, but . . . . With perhaps the exception of maybe molecular gastronomy, ALL RECIPES are highly derivative, and nothing, in my opinion, is ORIGINAL. Everything is basically adaptations, influenced by classics, then adaptions of the classics, and adaptations of adaptations (and so on). That’s not to say that some of these adaptations aren’t interesting, and warrant new attention, but calling anything “my own” is just “posing.” I am a classically-trained chef, and consider myself very innovative in my food and flavor combinations, but I’d be an idiot to think I’m the first person to have ever put certain combinations together.

    • Yes your point has been made here, and I agree with it to a certain extent. But making food is not the same as publishing recipes. On the other hand, you might be upset to see a restaurant open down the street where they’re making the same food that you serve.

  53. You know the best thing I saw recently was a fellow food blogger that titled her posts where she used someone else’s recipes ‘Your Recipe My Kitchen”, her posts had lots of commentary and input about how she felt about about the recipe, and the adaptations she made to the original recipe. I thought this was a nice way to acknowledge the authorship of a recipe and to still post your cooking experience.

  54. Are these people kidding? A chicken burrito is pretty generic, this is not the recipe for an exotic nonmainstream dish.

    Whoever objected to her burrito recipe must not know how to cook.

    Why not give credit to the originator of burritos, like in Mexico, then?

    Totally ridiculous.

    GAW

    • Yes, burritos are generic, but rewriting a burrito recipe rather than creating your own is the issue here, Grace Ann.

      • When you invest enough time to notice about 200 people post the same recipe and even the same post with in a few days of one another, it becomes clear quickly what online blogs to rely upon if you want original thought.

        From burrito to paella it has been done. For all we know the Food & Wine writer was inspired while sitting in a Taco Bell thinking I can make this better. I agree, credit the Mexicans. There are few originators and many followers. While flipping through Martha Stewart this fall I saw the exact same spread as a sweet little blog I’ve happened upon from Australia over a year ago. It was far too original to be coincidental.

        I just researched brownies for over week-people online argue which is best between 3 recipes. Because they all come from highly reputable sources no one questioned them?? Write them out side by side it’s just a quantity game with the same ratios and various cooking times. So who is copying who there?

        • It’s definitely getting harder to tell who’s copying whom. I guess the sad thing is that people have to copy at all.

          • Well said. Some things are best not reinvented, perhaps it is best to reference the best with credibility than trying to take the glory. Not that a wealth of writers do the research necessary for this. That’s a topic for another article though.
            Your response is timely for me as I ponder: do I do the profession that I’m good at and guarantees me an 8 hour workday and great money or do I take my food feistiness and desire to feed the world and forge ahead hoping for the best?

            Btw I found your site while researching about writing cookbooks, useful information for for the unconnected food entrepreneur thank you.

  55. This is a really sensitive issue for anyone who creates anything for a living, and that includes me. I have to say, however, that there are so many ways to create a chicken burrito. Or a bacon cheddar omelet. Or brownies. It’s often hard to know where an “original” recipe came from. I think it’s entirely plausible that two people working independently could come up with very similar recipes.
    A current example: the gourmet chocolate chip cookies featured in the NY Times and Martha Stewart and supposedly voted #1 chocolate chip cookie in America. Then the cook book is published and the recipe for these cookies turns out to be the recipe on the back of the Nestle’s Chocolate Chips package, except for a reduction in the amount of flour. Does that mean this baker stole the recipe from Nestle’s?
    I just think it’s a subject that doesn’t lend itself to black and white pronouncements.

  56. I totally agree, but at the same time hasn’t everything been “done” before? I also feel like people who copy and don’t at least attribute an adaptation give us a bad name.

    The other week I had the idea to make a chicken curry based around coconut and dried apricots (since I had a ton in my cupboard). After I had written a draft recipe I googled “coconut and apricot curry” and sure enough there was a recipe on epicurious which was similar. Granted it used Thai curry paste and flavours rather than a more Indian style as I was planning on. I did however think the idea of using mango chutney as a sweetener was a good one and it inspired me to use some apricot jam which fit more with what I was trying to do. Is this recipe research or an adaptation?

    I start to get very paranoid about these things as I feel strongly that the recipe is *mine* and as such I gave no credit, if you look at the two side by side they aren’t that similar but I also worry that if someone googled both they might think i was somehow plagiarizing.

    • I’d say it was recipe research, Katerina. The recipe inspired you to use one particular ingredient. I think it’s good that you looked it up, but if it caused you to copy the recipe’s style and writing, that would be going too far. That is what would cause someone to think you were plagiarizing.

  57. My blog’s niche is cooking at high altitude, and I adapt many baking recipes so that they will work above 6000 feet. I always list the source of my recipes, including the publication and recipe writer’s name. Am I stealing recipes, or providing a service to my fellow high altitude home cooks struggling to bake the perfect cake? Should I be asking permission to use these recipes in my blog?

    By the way, the first thing I did when I started my blog was read your book cover to cover. It has been immensely helpful, especially in finding my voice. Thank you, Dianne.

    • Good questions, Annie. I guess it depends how you adapt them. If they are still basically unchanged, then that could be a problem. I will write more about this soon.

  58. The expression or language of a recipe is what’s copyrighted, not the ingredients or method. In general, “ideas” cannot be copyrighted, but only the expression of them. So while it would violate copyright to reproduce a recipe verbatim (without permission), describing the same set of ingredients and process in your own way (ie. not just changing one or two words) does NOT violate copyright. Certainly the example you give sounds fine from a legal standpoint. That said, it’s generally appropriate to acknowledge the source of your adaptation or inspiration.

    Here’s a relevant page for US copyright law: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html
    Here’s a more in-depth discussion of this issue by David Lebovitz: http://foodblogalliance.com/2009/04/recipe-attribution.php

    • Thanks Alison. I have linked to David’s post many times. It’s a gem.

    • I know I am late in coming into this discussion but I couldn’t help but give input. Thank you Allison for pointing this out. ” ‘ideas’ cannot be copyrighted, but only the expression of them”. I too was becoming paranoid. If I copy verbatim, I tell the author and duly note it. That is an extraordinary rare occasion. I don’t copy recipes because I don’t like many of the ingredients used.
      Like the burrito…who can take credit for shrimp and grits? Virginia Willis, or Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse Or..Me? It’s an idea. I’ve been making shrimp and grits or scallops and grits forever. I think I heard someone mention a meal of shrimp and grits years ago and I jumped on it. I didn’t look up a recipe, I just made it on the fly. The recipe I use is mine and it changes every time I make it. I will never lend credit to anyone yet, when I walk into a restaurant in the south, there it is shrimp and grits. I covered Chefs demonstrating at Taste of Atlanta and two well known chefs made shrimp and grits. Who owns it? So, I’m glad this was clarified. I feel better.

      • I hope that, as a result of this post, you no longer copy recipes verbatim, Pam, even if it is a rare occurrence.

        I don’t think this discussion is about who created the first original recipe for something. There is no way to ever discover that, and only food historians care. It is about putting your own work out there instead of copying the work of other people.

        • I think I have “based” a recipe of mine on another one just three times, this week being the third. Two of these I was paid by the copyright owner to modify their recipe to my taste. The third time I used a recipe from a publication, heavily modified (except for most of the ingredients and amounts) then rewrote it completely. All three times I acknowledged the source and mentioned that the recipe was modified and rewritten.

          I have been subjected to too much violation of my rights to do the same to somebody else. Ethics above all.

          • Yes, agreed. But I don’t understand. The copyright holder paid YOU to modify the recipe to your taste? Please explain. This seems like a very unusual situation.

          • It was part of a promotion. They asked me to adapt recipes from their website to the my website theme and repost them. In some cases the changes were very significant, although their product remained, of course.

  59. Oops, guess I should have read the replies first! Sorry.

  60. I am not a food writer nor studied baking or cooking or styling or photography – i don’t even have a nice camera. I am just writing about food in my house and how I experiment sometimes and make do with what we have or can afford to cook. If I adapt does that mean I am copying? worrisome. i don’t put in recipes but only describe what I did with what ingredient or what I see my mom does. I add links to the recipe source that inspired me to try cooking or baking whatever myself., just to see if I can do it am i doing something wrong? help!

    • Actually it sounds like you are doing something right! You don’t put in recipes, but you describe what you did and add links to the source. That sounds perfect to me.

      • Thanks again Dianne! What a relief! I sure don’t want to step on other people’s toes or appropriate what they worked hard at and gracious enough to share. Thank you too, for helping us newbies : )

  61. Dear Dianne,

    Thank you SO MUCH for all this information. I have just started to explore all the sources you have offered and already many questions have been answered. Looking forward to learning and sharing in the future.

    foodhst

  62. you’re wrong. you cannot protect a recipe, its the original voice/authorship that’s protected. what’s more, if that girl stole the recipe to begin with and changed it, she has a right to do that. what you suggest, dianne, is that NO ONE can ever make another chicken burrito recipe again. you can copy a list of ingredients, and use your language to describe your technique and its yours. i dont condone plagiarism, but no one is reinventing the wheel here. and just about every cookbook that i have has an adaptation of some sort. i can put several of my books side by side and see the ‘inspiration’ with no attribution to other authors. its food. its been done. you can only roast corn so many ways. things are bound to get crossed. i think the word plagiarism is harsh. i would venture to guess that even some of the best cookbook authors got many of their ideas from a restaurant they used to work at, another cookbook, a friend. the fact that you STILL think that that chicken burrito girl plagiarized, even though she changed EVERY recipe just sounds like your on a witch hunt that will never produce a witch. let it go.

    READ:
    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.

    For further information about copyright, see Circular 1, Copyright Basics. Note that if your recipe has secret ingredients that you do not want to reveal, you may not want to submit it for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records.

    Deposit requirements depend on whether a work has been published at the time of registration:

    If the work is unpublished, one complete copy
    If the work was first published in the United States on or after January 1, 1978, two complete copies of the best edition
    If the work was first published outside the United States, one complete copy of the work as first published
    If the work is a contribution to a collective work and was published after January 1, 1978, one complete copy of the best edition of the collective work or a photocopy of the contribution itself as it was published in the collective work

    • Adaptation is complicated. Of course cooks and recipe writers will make a chicken burrito again, and probably similar to this one. What we’re discussing here is how to make a recipe your own, when the idea came from someone else. And as you say, it comes down to voice, technique, or a special ingredient.

      • I think where confusion comes in for me is that when I look at a recipe and try to make it my own I usually take the bones of the recipe and beef it up with my own idea. I don’t take a recipe and change beef to chicken and call it my own. I look at recipes like sentence structuring back in school. If you take a sentence like I like chili. Then the sentence I like warm and spicy chili on a cold winter day. The longer sentence is like a full recipe. The shorter sentence is where you have subracted everything you can without the sentence/recipe not making sense. For example I make biscotti’s I actually don’t remember where I found the recipe. Basically I can change the mix in’s and extracts. But there are the bones of the biscotti where it just wouldn’t work if I tried to change anything else to it. If the original recipe is chocolate chip with peanut butter extract and peanuts and I make one with lemon extract poppy seeds and dried blueberries. Can I call it mine? There are some recipes that you want to change but you need to look at the recipe for the basic components of it. I make and asian coleslaw. I add chili oil and extra vingear to mine. I change napa cabbage to coleslaw mix. I feel it is not super changed but most recipe in various places you look are going to have rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar as a basis. The chili oil is what i feel makes mine different from the other recipes and changes the flavor. However I have a recipe for spinach dip. The main thing I changed to it would be that i added water chestnuts to a warm spinach dip. Now that I wouldn’t consider my recipe.

        • I agree, it’s not just about changing a few ingredients. It’s about changing the method into your own words and writing your own headnote.

  63. The thing is, people like Smitten Kitchen get huge credit for being one of the best food blogs out there, yet she lifts recipes all the time. She lifted Gourmet’s 2008 flatbread recipe and said that she ‘adapted’ it, but if you look at her page, and Gourmet’s page, she copy pasted it directly onto her site, it’s exact, down to the brand of salt. Adapted, in my mind, means that you borrowed some components of a recipe, then changed it somehow. People are saying that they have adapted recipes, but they have not.

    I think, unfortunately, there is less protection than you may believe. Or else, why would Saveur call her one of the best blogs on the web? Any of us can lift recipes, cook and photo them and create a blog about them. I think that people who do truly adapt should be left alone. You see something, you love it, you want to make something similar and use the original as a template. Not out of malice, but out of inspiration. People like Smitten Kitchen should not receive praise for being one of the best blogs on the net if she is literally cutting and pasting, just because the blog ‘looks nice’.

    I think that there is controversy over what’s protected and what’s not in the food world. I think that, more appropriately, what can be asked is that a blogger acknowledge another blog/site/recipe source, but I don’t think that going to another’s site to adapt something exciting is not grounds for the witch hunt. If Smitten Kitchen can get away with it, and be tagged at Saveur as one of the ‘sites we love’, then I think more homework needs to be done about if using other people’s work is legal or not. Uninspired, non-creative, immoral, perhaps, illegal, I’m not so sure.
    Here are the side-by-sides:

    http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2008/07/crispflatbread

    http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/08/crisp-rosemary-flatbread/

    • Jane, I’m not sure why she said the recipe was adapted, since it is basically the same. However, she gave full credit to Gourmet all the way through her post, something the other blogger did not do.

    • Amen! I was flabbergasted when I heard Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen was getting a book deal from a major publisher for recipes that are almost all lifted from other sources just because she has a lot of followers. Is she going to share the money she receives from the book with all the people from whom she “adapted” her recipes? Sems only fair.

      • I don’t think that’s fair, Ronica. While she admits that she started out this way, she would never have gotten a big book deal if all she did was adapt famous peoples’ recipes. She’s been writing her own recipes for quite a while now.

  64. Question. I am starting a blog. I don’t want to be a “copy cat” but like others have said, there are only so many ways to roast corn and some things just can’t be taken so seriously. My site is about crock potting. I take recipes and adapt them so that they work in the crock pot. I change things, but yes, there are recipes that “inspire” MY final result. How would you go about giving credit for this?

    • Just credit the original recipe, and explain what you changed and why. You need to change enough things about it so that it doesn’t seem like you copied the original.

  65. Dianne
    I am about to start a recipe website. I am going to try and cover the basics, like spaghetti and meatballs to cobb salad to steaks; for those recipes I am going to create them from scratch using elementary cooking knowledge. However, I also have a lot of recipes that are committed to memory or that I have written down that are adapted, inspired or possibly copied from other sources. How would you go about this? I have no directions written down, but i have quantities and cook times. For example, I have an encrusted tilapia that I cook all the time; I am not sure if I tweaked it at all or made drastic changes to it. I have many more like this as well. I know I legally can post them since whatever directions/steps/prep I write will be original, but some of them may have exact ingredients, amounts and order of making. What do you think?

    • Sorry, I forgot an important point — I do not know the author or source of those recipes that are adapted, inspired or verbatim and I do not know which ones are originals of my own.

    • I guess the question is: what are you bringing to the table that’s new? There are a million recipes online for how to make spaghetti and meatballs and steak. If you can’t answer that, I suggest you stay away from basic recipes and go for less ordinary dishes, such as the encrusted tilapia. You can legally post the recipes, but if you got the idea from somewhere else, you should say where.

      • I guess I was making more of a comment than a question. Recipes that people post online or in cookbooks, could have been made and most likely were made by someone else before them. That is why attributing recipes to a specific source is hard and in some cases not warranted. I have seen recipes that are identical to ones my grandmother taught me 30 years ago. I think this is why the law generally doesn’t allow for the copyright of recipes. I would be pretty upset if some accused me of wrongdoing if I posted a family recipe that may be identical to some published recipe that I have never read. I want to make a database for my recipes so that I don’t have to always reference my recipe notebook that is falling apart and so that others can use my recipes. I have over 1000 and a few are undoubtedly similar or identical to others out there. I am not going to get mad at others who have the same recipes because they very well may have learned them from their grandmother before I did. You know what I mean? I think if people don’t want others posting the same recipes without credit, they should not post them online. If I find a recipe on the web and I think it is great and want my readers to see it, I will definitely credit that source. But, unless it is word for word, even if ingredients and quantities are the same, I think people should be cautious to assume it was stolen.

        • You’ve made a lot of points, Simon, so I’m going to respond to them one by one:

          I’m not sure exactly why the law doesn’t allow for copyrighting recipes, but I think it’s about the the ingredients list. Ex. “1 cup flour” is not copyrightable.

          You may not get mad at people who have the same recipe, but they could get mad at you!

          If you find a great recipe online, it is exemplary to just link to it.

          It’s often pretty easy to see when a recipe is stolen. I’ve seen blogs where recipes are lifted in their entirety from other blogs, just a copy and paste. But you’re right, in other situations it’s very hard to tell.

  66. My blog recipes tend to focus on combining ingredients & techniques from different cuisines. My take on publishing recipes..write them like you’d do a scientific publication. Once you formulate your idea, do your research, write the paper, & LIST the references (albeit not in a journal of Neurosurgery or Nature format), the only leeway, it need not be in a formal structure as in a scientific paper! Its worked for me so far..
    Coming back to the particular example you’ve given.. If a Chicken Burrito is the height of originality of your creativeness…*no comment*, but its even worse if someone has to try & lift that!

  67. […] Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours: (Will Write for Food) […]

  68. whenever I am using a recipe, I give credit to the cookbook (even giving direct links to the book on Amazon) and/or website. However, I once took a class on how to get a cookbook published and I was instructed that most recipes are adaptations of recipes people got from somewhere and that you are required to change 5 things (either ingredients or methodology) and then you can claim it as an original recipe. Do you agree?

    • I do agree that most recipes are adaptations, but it’s too simple to say that changing 5 things makes it yours. It does not. Minor changes to the ingredients list and method are not good enough.

      • Legally it is. Everything else is just a matter of your opinion. I think the example you give is completely within the law and ethics.

  69. This is a very important topic for food bloggers be aware of. I think it’s key for bloggers (indeed, anyone who writes) to cite their sources. I wrote a post on my blog about an experience that I had recently with this issue. Dianne asked me to post a link to it: http://www.artofglutenfreebaking.com/2012/01/food-writing-ethics-citing-sources-is-the-currency-of-colleagues/

  70. I agree, it is absolutely necessary to show where you adapted your recipe from or copied the recipe from (and not call it your own!). Even if you tweaked a couple things, if you were looking at another recipe you need to give credit (link up!) where it is due.
    The way I look at it: cooking is a form of art. If someone painted a picture of the Mona Lisa and changed a few minor details in their painting, they can not call it their own work of art. Same idea applies for recipes. If you did not write the method word for word or come up with the ingredients on your own, please link to the source used.

    • Okay. I agree in theory. But how do you know that the recipe you adapted had not also been adapted from elsewhere? Then you are giving credit to a copy. Authors don’t always say, as you know.

      I’m just playing devil’s advocate here.

      • That is true, original sources aren’t always listed. It’s complicated and controversial figuring where a recipe originates in most cases. Some come from friends that are written on recipe cards and who knows if they had been copied down elsewhere from a place unknown to us. So, I’m assuming, all you can do there is mention where the recipe came from. If you are using a recipe from a blog that doesn’t have an original source, pretty much all you can do is mention where you found the recipe you are posting. Something I have come across food bloggers doing is adding a note where they found the recipe and noting that they are unsure of where it originated, but offer the link where they found what they are using in their post. It’s tough to decipher the best course of action.

  71. […] ownership has been a topic of discussion on Twitter and at Dianne Jacob’s website (here, here, and here) about this, and I don’t know what’s right. There are only so many recipes […]

  72. Hi Dianne,
    I really don’t know much about blogging etiquette, but I just wanted your opinion on this: If I use the same ingredients and ingredient amounts that another recipe uses, but write my own directions according to my experiences, should I write that I adapted the recipe from the source or simply ask permission of the blogger and give full creds to them without writing about adaptations? I’m a bit confused, as I’ve seen quite a few notable bloggers that have simply re- posted the recipe in its entirety and written their opinons in parentheses or footnotes. I had always assumed this was okay, although many of the articles I’ve been reading up on have said differently. Maybe it was because the bloggers were simply referring to cookbook recipes that they had already asked the writer’s permission to use? I’m a bit of a newbie, as you may have assumed by now. :) It would be SO much appreciated if you helped me get these concepts straight!

    • Hi Michelle. It’s best to not use the same ingredients and amounts that are in a pre-existing recipe. Instead, experiment with the recipe to make it your own. Write your own title and headnote, and write your own directions. Yes, say that you adapted the recipe and give a link whenever possible. You don’t have to ask for permission if you do all this.

  73. I’m not trying to be a jerk but, since when is making a burrito something you need a recipe for? Or a sandwich, for that matter? I will never understand those kinds of recipes. Following a homemade thai chili paste recipe? Makes sense. I wouldn’t take credit for it even if I tweaked it a million times. I make a meatless lasagna that I invented by putting a couple of recipes out of the same cookbook together and basing the sauce on how my mother would make – still not mine. But all you have to do, since it’s non-fiction, right? is acknowledge your influences. And that is done. And why about a burrito? If you don’t have enough imagination…
    Great site and thanks!

    • Yes, there are recipes for everything, including how to boil an egg. Someone who has never done it before needs to know. Obviously you don’t, so more power to you!

      There is more to recipe writing than acknowledging your influences, especially if you have not rewritten the information, but you can never go wrong with that.

  74. NOTHING is original. Everything is just edited or rewritten. I’m sure Food & Wine got their inspiration from somewhere, as everyone does. That’s why it’s called, INSPIRED. To take an idea, and rewrite it to fit you. It’s art. It’s food. It’s life. Once the blogger added something different to the recipe, it became hers. She personalized it and claimed those personalizations as her own, as she should have. To play fair, she should have mentioned where the original idea came from, but it’s a competitive world and playing fair isn’t neccesary.

    • Playing fair is necessary if you want to be part of a community, Amber. So I disagree with you there. Also, there’s a big difference between changing a few ingredients and trying to write a recipe from scratch.

  75. Hi. I’m still a little confused. I’ve been wanting to share some family recipes and make some profits. I don’t think these recipes ever came from a book. I even added to the original ingredients. Does this make it my recipe?? How would I know if the recipe existed somewhere else? Ah, my head hurts lol

    • It’s hard to figure out these things. First, go to the source of your family recipes. If they came from clippings or neighbors, they could have come from a published source. Then try looking for your recipe on the Internet and see what comes up. It’s not an exact science, but worth the research.

  76. What is considered changing ‘enough’ that it is different? I looked up bread and butter pudding online and used some basic ingredients mentioned in a couple of different recipes. I didn’t use all of the ingredients though. Then I went to my local bakery and had a look at different breads as I wished to make it with something different than regular sliced bread. I bought a damper and used that to make my bread and butter pudding. I also thought adding some tawny wine would add some nice flavour as well as smearing the whole top of the damper crust (once the egg/custard type mix was added) with strawberry jam. The result was I believe my own recipe but I guess i’m not sure now. I am really enjoying coming up with my own ideas and thought it would be good to compile them in a book for sale and of course I want to do the right thing. I am in Australia so i’m not sure if legally that makes a difference, although I understand morality is usually stricter than legality and I wouldn’t like to offend anyone either.

    • It sounds to me like you’ve thought it through and made lots of adjustments that show it’s your own recipe. I don’t think other people have thought of adding tawny wine and strawberry jam, but about all you could do is an Internet search to see.

  77. Maybe you can settle a family dispute we are having. My niece has an Apple Crisp recipe where she bakes a bottom crust for 10 minutes before topping it with the rest of ingredients and completes the baking. Her bottom crust comes out much like a kuchen. Anyway, I wondered what it would be like as a top crust baked like a traditional apple pie. I concocted a filling I thought would go well..apples, walnuts, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, ginger. The crust came out like I hoped..sort of like a crispy cookie. Because I used the same ingredients in the same amounts for the crust I am taking some gentle ribbing. I contend because the end result was completely different due to difference in the way it was baked..my recipe is “original”..agree or disagree? :-)

    • Oh, you’re getting into touchy territory here. I think your recipe was adapted from her recipe, or you were inspired by hers. And your niece probably adapted her apple crisp recipe from someone else’s. It’s hard to be completely original with this kind of a recipe.

  78. I think this is a fascinating discussion. I am leaning towards the opinion of featuring rather than hiding your inspiration recipes. Why don’t we use photos with links to our inspiration recipes like we do for DIY projects, home improvement, etc?

    I’m thinking more posts like how I wrote this one (non food related) would be great to see in the food world as well: http://theadventurebite.com/operation-get-organized/

    • I like your idea. If you are just following the recipe, you should link to it if it’s online. I enjoyed your post. It reminded me of a post I wrote recently about what to write about on a food blog besides recipes. There’s lots of other material, as you show.

  79. So is it ok to put “Adapted form [blank]”? For something that is distributed or seen by many people? What if you work in corporate wellness and you want to use a recipe for a newsletter? How do you give credit legally?

    • It is okay to put that if you sincerely adapted the recipe. If you did not, then it is not okay to use the recipe. You should still give credit by stating the name of the author and the publication where it appeared.

  80. This is a fascinating (and useful!) discussion. I’m wondering – where do you come down on restaurant recreations? If you ate a dish somewhere, and spent a lot of time trying to recreate it using solely your memory, how original is the dish? Of course, in my mind, there’s never any harm in putting “Inspired by” in the header or discussing the meal you had at the restaurant in the post (and you’ll make a lot more friends that way). But if you put a lot of time and effort into testing and tweaking a recipe, at what point can you call it your own? For example, many recent cookbook authors do not credit their sources of inspiration for their recipes, and for the most part, I feel that that’s fair, since I know they worked many hours to develop the recipes they do have.

    • It’s best to say where you ate the dish in the headnote, and how you tried to recreate it. Regarding how to make it your own, if it took you 20 tries to make it taste just like the restaurant dish, it is still not your own.

  81. Not sure if some one mentioned this in all these comments. However, I think this is worth reading if you think your content was stolen: http://foodblogalliance.com/a/what-to-do-when-your-content-is-lifted/#more-7597

    And this is a really good read on how to properly attribute recipes: http://foodblogalliance.com/a/recipe-attribution/

  82. First of all recipes can *NOT* be legally copyrighted. Period. Look it up – is in plain, black and white, simple English that anyone who reads English would be able to understand. Second, many recipes are not exactly new or unique in the first place. I’m sorry, but if I want to copy your “recipe” for a cobb salad, I can do just that, and there’s truly nothing you can do about it.

    Now, on the other hand, if you have a truly unique recipe – which is a part of a larger whole, a cook book, a restaurante, etc – and I copy it, then yes you have some legal grounds to come after me.

    Why do you folks think companies like Coca Cola so closely guard exactly how their products are made? Because recipes CAN NOT BE COPYRIGHTED. What part of this do you folks have such an extreme hard time understanding?

    It gets real murky, real fast.. but.. if you want to write a cookbook or a website, blog, etc and you think a recipe is really great.. Google it. The title, the ingredients, try to figure out alternate names for it.. Just google it. Can you find it *anywhere* else? Can you find it in lots & lots of places? You should be able to get a really good idea whether that is a proprietary, unique recipe that someone could have any hopes of having any rights to whatsoever pretty quickly.

    Having said that.. as has already been stated in this article, you can simply get written permission as well as credit the “original” source. And then throw on top of that RECIPES CAN NOT BE COPYRIGHTED.. if you’re a US citizen, that is.. and you should, by rights, be protected from any BS litigation after the fact.

    I am on a quest to create my own cookbook and I already knew these details before I even began researching it. It is really just common sense. I mean really people, try posting a recipe for a hamburger and suing somebody when they republish that.. lots of luck to you.

    Unfortunately, like many things online, a person has to search high and low and everywhere in between – and even do their own case law research! – and then make a pretty good guess as to what the best course of action actually is. This article really doesn’t do much to inform me.

    • Yes, many people before you have stated in the comments that recipes cannot be copyrighted, but that is kind of beside the point. It is more about the ethical and moral issue of copying someone else’s work, and the more complicated issue of how to create something new, because — as you point out — it is really hard. Thanks for your long comment, and best of luck with your cookbook.

  83. I was a newspaper food editor for many years. Recently, a local self-published cookbook included 80 recipes that chefs had provided the newspaper and that we had tested and adapted for home cooks. The author of the book claimed that the chefs had given her all the recipes, but some were from long-closed restaurants. She didn’t change a thing — they were identical to the newspaper versions down to the semicolons. I consulted the lawyer for the newspaper chain, and her opinion was that we couldn’t act against the author because we hadn’t noted in print that we had adapted all the recipes. (Some said “adapted by the xxx for home kitchens, some didn’t.) I didn’t write about the cookbook, but of course she got some publicity elsewhere. It really bothered me that the author was making money off of our hard work and expertise.

    • Oh that is so infuriating, Judith! What a terrible story after all your hard work. If it’s any consolation, unless she is very good at self-promotion, she probably didn’t make much money on it.

    • Judith, it sounds to me like an adapted recipe can truly be called yours as long as it’s stated as such and credit is given to the original author.

  84. […] Jacob, in a March 17, 2010 post on her Will Write for Food blog, writes that “it’s not … legal to copy a recipe verbatim and give credit, unless […]

  85. If I add a recipe to allrecipes, so I can import it to a menu app I’m using do I give credit? It’s not for profit or anything.

    • Yes, definitely, since it is not your recipe. However, people post recipes on Allrecipes.com from elsewhere, so it is probably not the source either. You might have to do some searching around on the web to see where it came from.

  86. Hello guys,

    I dont know if this discussion is still going on, but I am starting a cooking blog and am kind of alarmed by this credit thing. I mean, a lot of what I do is read tons of recipes (usually in regards to 5 or 6) on an item to make and then create it based on how I feel. A perfect example of this would be a peanut butter chocolate cheesecake I made from a tasteofhome recipe. I want to blog about this, but I really dont think it is fair to credit tasteofhome when the only thing I took from them was adding chocolate chips to the recipe. I mean, is peanut butter in Cheesecake such a novel idea that I have to credit the 5 recipes I used to construct my own?

    As it stands right now, I had to add in 3 ingrediants, lower the amount of 2 (the sugar and cream cheese), increase the peanut butter, increase the chocolate, add an additional egg, and changed the order ingrediants are added, and how it was baked.

    When does it get to the point that I can say that the recipe is mine and not a copy of someone else?

    • Hi Dustin, yes, this topic is ALWAYS going on.

      I think it’s fair to say that peanut butter cheesecake is not a new idea.

      When you talk about all these things that you added and subtracted, do you mean you started with the TOH recipe and modified it? In that case, it would be nice for you to tell readers just what you’re telling me — that you started with it but made lots of changes, and why. They will be so impressed!

      • Just came across this post and both your original post plus all the comments are super interesting and informative – it is surprising that this is such a minefield when cookbooks and recipes have been published for so long! I think it is fair to credit where inspiration comes from – at the least it can make for an interesting headnote (learning how to make mousse au chocolat from the mother of your student exchange partner in France) and it is only fair. Where a recipe has been adapted, I think it is only fair to refer to the original source. That being said, when it comes to original recipe development, I think it is fair not to give any sources when you have researched a number of recipes for the same dish (e.g. lemon curd), compared ingredient ratios, worked out what seem to be average ratios and used that as a starting point for your own recipe, tweaking ingredient amounts as you go along. Does that sound fair? If not, how do you define an original recipe? Even trained chefs and cooks have learned recipes for choux pastry, beef wellington etc. somewhere even if they have then adapted it, yet often won’t cite the culinary school they attended or the chefs they trained with as a source for their recipe …

  87. I have a question about this. I have a baking blog and I no matter how many changes i make to a recipe, I always post a link to the original, as well as a link to the homepage of the site where I got it. But now I’m going to be putting my recipes in our local paper, and I’m wondering if I should include the name of the original site there as well. My niche is healthy baking, and I only plan to send them recipes for publication that I have adapted significantly. I don’t want to undermine my own credibility as someone who develops these recipes, but I don’t want to rip off anyone either. Would love your opinion! (And I loved your book Will Write For Food.)

    • Congrats on getting into the local paper, Laurie. Does the paper already publish recipes, so you can see how much info they put in the headnote? I’d use that as a guide. If they don’t publish anything about how it was adapted, it’s a good strategy to only send them the ones you’ve changed significantly. It would be good to discuss all this with your editor, just to get buy in.

  88. […] Wine Spectator magazine’s reputation has been severely tarnished (and deservedly so); that three ingredients does not a new recipe make; that food bloggers who want book deals must be stalkers and proffer lots of chocolate; that food […]

  89. Four years and hundreds of thousands of burrito recipes later, do you still feel that the changes to the recipe in your original example above were inadequate to be considered the blogge’rs “own” without attribution? Truthfully, one of the main problems with your example is that of the “recency effect.” If the couple had not JUST seen the recipe in Food and Wine magazine, and the blogger had waited a month or two, the question might not even have been raised.

    • Yes I do, Denise. The question would come up because whenever people Google a recipe for “chicken burrito,” they will see a list of links, and they will probably look through the first several of them. And they might notice that many of them look similar — they use the same ingredients, the technique is the same and the writing is a little too similar in the method and maybe even the headnote. That will lead them to wonder who is copying whom, and whose recipe can be trusted. Now, if they find a blog where someone said they adapted a Food & Wine recipe, with a link, readers would have a choice. They could either try the blogger’s recipe or go to Food & Wine.

  90. I know this is an old thread, but want to chime in. Washington Post:

    Copyright law specifies that “substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions,” such as a cookbook, can be copyrighted but that a mere list of ingredients cannot receive that protection.

    Honestly, if we’re going to take the stand that ANYONE owns ANY recipe, we’re going to be hard pressed to prove it. No one better EVER publish another recipe for bread, pie, cake, pancakes, muffins, carrots, tossed salad, BBQ chicken, etc., because surely someone already created a SIMILAR recipe.

    Face it, cooking always involves using what we’ve learned from other people and recipes and either copying or modifying it. Sure, I attribute if I can figure out who to give credit to. But if I’m making a burrito, I have no idea where/when/from whom I learned to make them.

    • I don’t think anyone is taking that stand, Alison. And no one is trying to stop people who are still creating yet more recipes that look the same as other recipes already published.

      The issue is more about using a single recipe as a starting point, and copying the language and the ingredients. If you start with that, you’re looking for trouble.

  91. Great, thanks for sharing this article. Really Cool.

  92. I wanted to blog about changing published recipes to fit my dietary requirements.
    Of course I plan on crediting the source, and if I am adapting an Ina garten recipe, for example, can I say the title of the dish that she has given it, to let people know what I am adapting exactly?
    Or do I need the publishers permission to even cite her title?

    • You can use the title but you can’t published the recipe without the publisher’s permission.

  93. Hi Diane! I’m new in the food blogging world, still taking baby steps and feeling my way around this fantastic world of cooking, baking, eating and writing. As someone who had to take media law & ethics back in college for my journalism degree, I admit I’m still confused on how to handle this situation.

    The blog I’m creating is very much a cook-through blog, since most of the things I make are from other bloggers or the many cookbooks I own. If I change something in the ingredients or in the process, I say that I’ve adjusted the recipe (and link to it). Usually I also mention in the actual blog post where I got the recipe from. Is that considered a best practice? Is that really enough?

    And even more, what about when I bake a batch of cookies from a David Lebovitz book, and I love it so much that I want to write about it in my blog? Do I just link to the cookbook where I found it? Do I share the recipe and attribute it to Lebovitz? I must admit I’ve done both, but how is the best way to handle this? Many thanks for any thoughts people share, as I mentioned, I’m very new at this!

    – AM

  94. Dianne, this is an excellent and thought provoking article and clearly from the responses, it’s highly relevant. Thank you for bringing this to readers attention.

    In my own instance, I am inspired by all sorts of recipes as well as photos of yummy meals and make them my own by figuring out how to short cut the process or simplify the ingredients. The method is always a description of how I go about the recipe.

    Recipes I source from others’ cookbooks which are invariably tweaked, are referenced to the page the author’s page. I would have thought authors would be pleased food writers are promoting their cookbooks and this is third party promotion that’ll help increase their sales.

    Best,

    Gen

    • You’re welcome, Gen. Thanks for stopping by. Some authors are pleased, some are not. Not everyone reacts the same way. Some are angry that slightly modified recipes from their cookbooks are everywhere for free, for example. And some are thrilled by the links.

      Re coming up with your own recipes, I have done the same. And then been dismayed when searching online to see that many other people had the same idea!

  95. I happened upon your blog just surfing the internet. Found it to be interesting to the point I felt compelled to give my 2 two cents worth.
    Why are people so touchy about recipes? Recipes were meant to evolve, otherwise we would be eating foods from 100 of years ago and prepared in the same manner.
    My mother and her sisters were great cooks. They were from rural areas of Virginia. When they grew up they were lucky to have 4 or 5th grade educations. Most could write…some. Their recipes were in there heads.We had to sit, watch and measure items to get recipes.
    They passed on well before the internet, but I have seen recipes with identical ingredients and some with instructions you would think they had written.
    Chefs are the worlds worst. Don’t see many that give credit to anyone. Guess they were born with the recipe in their heads. Silly Silly Silly.

    • Thanks for commenting. The people who are touchy about recipes are the ones who make a living writing them, Lee. They are not your mother and her sisters, even though they were great cooks. These professional recipe writers have a reputation and a living that they want to protect.

  96. So my question, I am putting together a recipe book to offer for free, using recipes that other people have given me to use. I don’t know the source of their recipes, and only some people shared them, if the text outside of the recipe is changed, is that legally make it allowed to use?

    *note, I am giving credit to chefs if the information was provided*

    Thanks

    M

    • You need to ask them where they got the recipe. If they said the made it up, you might try searching for it to see if that’s true.

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