Whole Lotta Lifting Going On

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Increasingly, recipe writers are finding their own content appearing somewhere else.

Part of the problem is how ridiculously simple it is to lift work verbatim. On the net, just copy and paste. Some online companies write code that does it. In print, just retype a recipe verbatim, and present it as yours.

Here’s what Gwen from Bunky Cooks said in the comments of a previous post here in Will Write for Food:

“I was amazed at the number of people who came up to me after I spoke on a panel on ethics at IFBC in New Orleans last year. They said they had no idea that there were ethics they should be adhering to when writing their blogs.

“Isn’t some of this just common sense? Aren’t we responsible for our words and actions just as you would be in a job or at school? Why do some people think the internet is a place where everything is free and anything is yours just for the taking?”

Good questions. At least she and I got the opportunity to educate. I also spoke on an ethics panel for IFBC last year, and talked for 50 minutes on the subject last weekend at Food Blog South in Birmingham, AL.

Here are some new developments from last week where both individuals and companies are involved:

1. Recipes ripped off as an e-book. Elise Bauer got Amazon to shut down a page where someone in Bangkok scraped the content of Simply Recipes into an e-book and sold it on Kindle. A reader of her site tipped her off. One week later, eight more Kindle e-books appeared on Amazon that ripped off Bauer’s recipes.

2. Recipes appear on a recipe database site — surprise! A food blogger emailed me to say she recently stumbled across several of her recipes on Tastebook. She didn’t add them. She has contacted the company but has not heard back from them yet.

Similarly, some big bloggers are fighting with Velvet Aroma and Feastie, which scrape blog recipes into their sites, without permission.

3. Recipes ripped off by a future cookbook author. That’s right, people don’t just steal online content. An editor at a publishing house emailed me to say that, after receiving a cookbook manuscript, she discovered two plagiarized recipes during a taste testing.

“Someone at the table said something like, ‘I swear this is just like a (celebrity chef’s/magazine’s) recipe I’ve made.’ We went online and found the original recipes in a matter of minutes. Everything’s nearly a straight copy-paste, including a typo!

“We had an intern spot-check some of the recipes the author had submitted, and we found a third had also come from the Internet. We talked with the author, who blamed an assistant. The author sent us replacements and assured us they were original recipes and not taken from other sources. The plagiarized recipe we discovered today was one of those replacement recipes.”

I introduced the cookbook editor to Amanda Hesser, who deals with this issue of lifted recipes during Food52 contests. She suggested a search of recipes at Eat Your Books. The site won’t show you the entire recipe, but shows a list of ingredients that appear in recipes in cookbooks, magazines and blogs, so you can take a first step in determining which are similar.

What can you do if you find someone’s stolen your recipes verbatim? First, take a deep breath. Second, read Bauer’s post about copyright theft, and read all the comments. Not everyone who does this is evil. Some people are simply naive. I hope, if this has happened to you, the person is in the latter category.

Photo by chanpipat from Freedigitalphotos.net


    • says

      Jeanne, I just read your post. Seriously? I don’t know what these kind of people are thinking. If you published a poem and then someone changed one line, would that be okay? Glad you had your agent nix the whole thing. I’m mad enough for both of us!

      • says

        Sally: I know! I am kind of floored that people are doing stuff like this. I have no idea what is going on in their minds. Eek.

    • diannejacob says

      Fantastic post, Jeanne, on an important subject, one I’ve covered a few times both in the blogs and many times in conferences. I love the way you laid out the call, the cookbook author’s thinking, and how you understood it, and then how you decided what to do about this “adaptation.”

      Delete the link? You’ve got to be kidding. In fact, I hope you will also comment and put a link to it on on one of my post popular posts, “Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours,”. I don’t want anyone to miss it.

  1. says

    Dianne, This is an interesting topic! I put almost all original recipes on my blog, and if I do adapt, I certainly credit. My problem is, I have no idea if anyone is actually lifting content, never mind photos. It would be far too much trouble to spend a lot of time scouring the internet looking for filched material (I should be working right now!) I hope some of your readers will share their insights and shed some light on this. Thanks so much.

  2. says

    It can be exhausting trying to chase down those blogs and recipe sites, etc. that lift the content. Many bloggers just plain “don’t know the rules” related to re-posting original recipes, and when you try to contact them and kindly/gently explain those rules… it usually doesn’t go so well. People are very defensive.

    I’m in the final stretch of my cookbook manuscript, and I find it absolutely awful to hear that publishers have had to deal with outright cut/pasting of recipes from the internet. That’s just wrong. I draw a lot of inspiration from recipes on the internet, from blogger’s recipes, and from cookbooks and magazines- it’s hard not to be influenced by all you see. What I’m finding though is that it’s nearly impossible nowadays to have a completely original recipe. Just when I think I’ve created the next great recipe for my cookbook, I see something very similar pop up on somebody’s blog. It’s frustrating, but that’s the nature of this creative business.

    Wish people had to sign a “rules of conduct” contract before starting a website. That might alleviate some of this mess!

    • diannejacob says

      I’m sorry to hear that people are defensive when you explain it to them, Lori. I haven’t had to deal with plagiarism very often. One time I got nowhere, the other time the person was mortified.

      I agree that it’s difficult to come up with an original recipe these days. The rules of adapting are very murky as well.

  3. says

    If I could make one small correction, Dianne… Velvet Aroma and Feastie aren’t really lifting recipes.
    The blog contents, including the recipe itself, aren’t actually housed on VelvetAroma / Feastie. Rather, their sites open up the original blog page in a frame… which means the blogger isn’t just getting credit for the recipe, they’re also getting that ever-important pageview and are still in full control of their content. Several of the big food aggregator sites (including Foodbuzz and Foodista) use a similar approach.
    Granted, I’m sure some bloggers might have an issue with their content being used in such a way, but I think it’s pretty unfair to lump it in with something as shady as content scraping. I for one, have no problem with this… it can actually turn out to be a great source of traffic!

    • says

      The only problem I have with sites like those is that I feel like it would be polite to ask a blog if they would like to be featured on their site. Some sites like Hello Cotton and Punchfork have done just that- and they are respected for doing so. So many sites are just using bloggers for content to try and develop a popular site. Yeah, they might send a sprinkling of traffic to my blog here and there, but they’re getting a whole lot more out of using my content than I am.

      • says

        Yeah, I can see where that would be a sore spot, Lori. It’s definitely a whole lot sketchier when permission hasn’t been granted – they’re not taking your content, but they’re certainly taking advantage of your personal brand that you’ve spent so much time building up.

        • John Eddy says

          I’d also be a little irked to find my blog post displayed in a frame where it may be surrounded by ads from someone else (ie, they make money showing my content) AND the content is charged to my web hosting account in terms of traffic. I don’t have a problem with Google indexing my site and showing ads with search results, but then, to see the whole content, you click through.

          Also, with ads on my site, some ad publishers require that they are the only ads on your site. By framing my site and putting ads around it (which Feastie may or may not ever do), you may force me to break my contract.

          Let alone any CSS/display issues that may come up by displaying a website within a frame.

      • says

        Hi Lori. Thanks for your comment. I started Feastie because I love food blogs. I wanted to bring a whole new audience of home cooks to food blogs by giving them one place to do an advanced search of recipes. Our stats show that we are increasing traffic, engagement, and visibility for food bloggers.

        I don’t make money off of Feastie. In fact, I have spent a significant amount of my savings and gave up a high paying job to devote all of my time to it. All I get out of it right now is loving what I do and being a part of an awesome community. :)

        We are working on engaging with the food blogging community more. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Here’s my email: valerie@feastie.com

        • says

          Hi Valerie, I don’t know anything at all about Feastie… do you ask bloggers if they’d like to participate or do you just add what you want? It’s sure nice when people ask :)

          • says

            Well, our goal is to build the Google for Food Blogs and we want to include as many of the tens of thousands of food blogs as possible. So we adopted the same conventions as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, which means that we don’t ask each individual blog before adding them to the search index. But if someone asks to be removed, we respect their wishes and remove them.

          • Beth says

            Valerie, I love your site!!! I think the approach you have taken is the right one. Thanks to sites likes yours more people get to see my recipes and creations :)

        • says

          Valerie, I’m not familiar with Feastie. Is it like Foodgawker or Tastespotting? Or are you the only ones who submit recipes? I’ve seen my blog on Velvet Aroma even though I was never contacted by them. But as someone above said, they don’t steal content–it’s more like a Google Reader (I guess?). Is your site similar in that way?

          • says

            Hi Ricki. We’re kind of more like Google search but we’re just for Food Blogs (and we don’t require those pesky microformats). So you can do a search for recipes by dish or ingredients. We show the blog posts with recipes coming from the original site but in a frame (like StumbleUpon). The original blog that published the recipe gets a page view. Our frame is just a bar on the right hand side where we added some tools to explore recipes, save a bookmark to the recipe, or add the ingredients to a shopping list. Our goal is to bring home cooks and food bloggers together. Our stats show that we’ve introduced tens of thousands of home cooks to blogs that they may not have found otherwise.

    • diannejacob says

      I suppose it’s no different than what Tastespotting and Gawker do then, except that the originator of the recipe/photos submits the content to those sites, whereas these other two just lift, without the involvement of the blogger. That seems to be a significant difference to the big bloggers who don’t like it.

      • says

        It’s not just the big bloggers who get frustrated with it… if users can “save” a recipe through the site thus eliminating the need to ever return to yours, it is taking away important traffic – traffic that accounts for a much higher percentage overall to the smaller bloggers who do not have the same stable traffic sources as the big bloggers to sustain themselves. I often wonder what exactly is allowed in that sense – do such large aggregating sites claim fair use to get around bothering to ask for permission?

        • says

          Hi Jenn. The “save” feature at Feastie doesn’t copy the recipe anywhere. It simply stores a bookmark to the original recipe in the user’s profile. If a user wants to view the recipe, they still have to go to the original blog post.

    • says

      Hi Isabelle. This is Valerie, founder of Feastie here. Thanks for making this point! We don’t scrape or copy recipes — we drive traffic to the original blog. Maybe not that much traffic right now, but we’re still at a very early stage and plan on growing.

      To everyone, on the permissions issue, I understand your concerns. Our goal is to include as many food blogs from the web as possible and we’ve adopted the same conventions as other search engines like Google and Bing. We respect the technical standard for requesting permission to crawl called robots.txt. And if a site owner contacts us to ask to be removed, we respect their wishes and remove them as soon as we can verify that they are true owner. So far, there have been very, very few who have made this request and many more who have asked to be added. I wouldn’t say we are “fighting” with any food bloggers. We want to work with food bloggers to create a site that helps to connect food bloggers with a wider audience of home cooks. We even have some very cool features for food bloggers in the works. We’ll be at Eat Write Retreat to talk about it.

      There’s more information (and an opportunity to share you perspective, as a food blogger, about Feastie, specifically) at this blog post http://www.feastie.com/blog/food-blogs-search-engines-frames-and-permission

      • diannejacob says

        Hi Valerie, Thank you so much for coming onto this post and explaining your position and how Feastie works. I appreciate it.

        • ACM says

          Feastie is a site I have been using, and actually I heard of Diannej.com through Feastie. Both are incredible sites. Keep up the good work.

          • diannejacob says

            Hmm. I just did a search of my name and the name of this blog on Feastie, and it came up blank, which does not surprise me. I don’t know how you would have heard of this blog through Feastie, since there are no recipes.

  4. says

    Whatever about the scrapers, who are simply stealing to build numbers to drive an advertising based model, I fail to see the point in bloggers blagging recipes. The fun and reward in blogging has to be in the giving of one’s own experience. There is more to it than building page views. If one is blagging rather than blogging, one will be found out sooner or later. Also, there has to be little reward in cheating to win. Give credit where it is due.

    • diannejacob says

      Blagging? I’ve never heard of that. What exactly is it?

      Re blogging just for the fun of it, I hope everyone who blogs is having fun. That has nothing to do with people lifting their content without permission.

  5. says

    Every single day I go to websites where my recipe, in entirety, is copy and pasted, verbatim.

    Many times this is also accompanied by one of my photos being reprinted.

    Sometimes the author gives credit to me via a linkback, and I get a WordPress notification (so you’d think if they were trying to be sneaky they wouldn’t link me back…but many times I think people think they’re doing me a favor by taking my content and my photos and posting them on their site…)

    Other times I randomly just find these things or readers write to me telling me they saw something on such and such site that was my photography and my recipe.

    There are loopholes, there are laws, there’s common sense and common courtesy. I actually have become more okay with reprints in entirety, even if no “adapted from” changes were really made or adapted. I hate it when they take my pictures because I work so hard on those. I work hard on the recipes, too, but the devil’s advocate is they need to host the content on their site in case my site or the site they took the recipe from shuts down.

    But this is all different than out and out plagiarism and passing off something that wasn’t yours to begin with.

    But then there’s the devil’s advocate…how many ways can you really make a chocolate chip cookie or a pan of rice krispy bars before everyone is making a version of everything that’s already been done before.

    Ok, I’ll stop now…


    • diannejacob says

      Every single day? Amazing. Actually, I find that shocking. I guess if you’re okay with them, then there’s no problem.

      What you’re talking about at the end seems more like the issue of adapting to me, vs. plagiarism.

      • says

        Hi Dianne,

        Thank you for addressing this topic and mentioning me in your post. I have to agree with Averie. Every single post of mine is now taken either in part or in its entirety and shows up on another blog. I get the pingback through WordPress and click over to see where it is. Some of the sites change some words to avoid copyright enfringement and will take the whole post, including photographs with no links back. Others will take a paragraph or two and one or two photos and then give a link for the rest of the post. I have found a few posts on as many as 5 or 6 sites and that is just what I know of. Who knows where else it is?

        We asked one person to remove the content and they shut down their entire site. Of course, everything on there was lifted from elsewhere. While we get in touch with some people that have taken our content, it would be a full-time job to track them down and follow-up to make sure they have removed the posts.

        We need to find a way to prevent people from doing this and I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that it costs us a lot of hard work and money to produce our content. It is an investment. I am sure many bloggers would agree with that. We all do much of what we do free, however, many of us would like to turn our blogs into a real business. For some that may mean a book deal or a cookbook or a professional writing gig. Other people may be interested in becoming professional photographers. Either way, if we continue to have content stolen from our site that is now claimed by someone else, we are hurt in the process. They are diminishing our work and value of our own site. They are also making money from ad revenues off of our content.


        • diannejacob says

          Well said, Gwen. But it is hard to know how to protect your work, since it is “free” to take by anyone who has access to a computer. And it doesn’t just happen to people who put their work online. I came across a site recently where the blogger had “adapted” hundreds of recipes by a famous cookbook author. Okay, they were not verbatim, but the number itself was staggering. And yes, she is making a bundle off that content.

  6. says

    I have mostly had problems with content stolen from my *blog*, and when it looks like a systematic theft (as opposed to a single recipe posted in good faith by someone who doesn’t realize what the rules are), I have dealt with it by sending DMCA complaints to the website hosts. Although it irks me because I really have better things to do, it is usually successful.

    I have, however, had a not-so-successful experience last summer, when a kind reader (what would we do without them?) alerted me that someone had posted 57 recipes copied verbatim (but without the headnotes) from my *cookbook* on a recipe database.

    I wrote a (paper) letter to the site’s DMCA department, as their FAQ advised, with links to the 57 recipes, and received a response that quotes US copyright laws and states that “Only if a recipe contains substantial literary expression will [a recipe] be protected. In the absence of such substantial literary expression, the recipe may be copied and reprinted, even without the permission of the recipe creator or the publisher of the recipe.”

    They conclude by saying that they did not find “substantial literary expression” in my recipes (gee, thanks! :) and that as such, they are not subject to copyright protection. They also say that if I disagree, I should point out the ones that do include substantial etc., and they will consider my claims.

    I was somewhat floored because I felt sure that copying the actual wording of a recipe process was not allowed, but when I contacted my publisher’s legal department, they responded by saying that indeed, there would be protection if the headnotes were included or if the recipes were compiled in the same manner as in my book (the compilation itself is a protected work), but individual recipes stripped of these copyrightable elements are not protected under U.S. law.

    They suggested I get them to at least credit me as the author and the book as the source, but I felt like this would make them even easier to find via a search engine, so I decided against it.

    I also tried to contact the guy who posted the recipes to reason with him, but obviously never heard back, so I let the whole thing go, but I remain highly annoyed.

    • diannejacob says

      How disheartening, Clotilde, to find out there was no protection. I can see how the ingredients list would not be copyrightable, but I thought the title might be, or the method, depending on how you wrote it.

      What is the name of the recipe database? Why not out them so other readers can know?

      • says

        Thanks, Dianne. I considered making the matter public somehow, but on the few occasions I’ve seen bloggers do so, I have felt it was just releasing more negative energy into a world that doesn’t need it. :)

        I am also of the mind that if what the poster and the site did is not against the law and I have exhausted my legal recourse, I shouldn’t be trying to leverage my online presence to serve my own view of justice. It’s debatable, certainly, and I might consider it in another situation, but in this instance it didn’t feel worth it.

      • says

        Here I thought that the method / instructions would be copyrightable. Surprised that the publisher’s legal department says no. Is this a new development in copyright law – has a judge issued a ruling saying such?

        • says

          @Nate: Apparently, they are, but only if they contain substantial literary expression.
          Here’s a scanned abstract from the letter I received from the DMCA agent: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/download/recipecopyright.jpg
          It quotes the Copyright Act and a 2006 ruling. Not being an attorney, I don’t know if it’s enough to justify publication of the recipes drawn from my own book, but my publisher’s legal department seemed to think it was.

          • says

            Clotilde, thanks for the link. It was quite informative, and instructive as to what is and is not copyrightable.

            From what I gleaned, the 7th Circuit Court found in “Publications International v Meredith Corp, 1996” ( http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&case=/data2/circs/7th/953485.html ) that the ingredients of a recipe are deemed as facts and not copyrightable. The method or directions to a recipe are also not copyrightable because they are a procedure, process or system used to derive the dish. (Whether a recipe is *patentable* is another issue not covered in the ruling.)

            Certain recipes are copyrightable – those with *original* content such as musings, reminiscences, suggestions, advice, hints, embellishments or other kinds of exposition on the making of the dish. Originality is the essential ingredient of a copyrightable recipe :-) Of course, photos, headnotes and stories are definitely copyrightable.

            My takeaway is that if someone is taking the entire content of a recipe post (headnote, photos, ingredients, directions etc), it’s a violation of copyright. But if someone just reposts an ingredient list and generic method, there is no copyright violation. If someone adapts a recipe without citing sources, then that’s unethical but probably not illegal.

  7. says

    Thank you for bringing up this important topic! It is definitely something that has come up often, and I am always shocked by it. I find direct plagiarism appalling (that’s also the former middle school teacher in me talking). There is no excuse. Recently I made a wonderful Ina Gartner recipe and barely changed a thing, so I decided to post pictures and give my opinion on the dish but then linked back to Ina’s site for the recipe. Some would say what’s even the point of that, but I enjoyed the dish and wanted to share it in some way with my readers.

    Adapting recipes is a really murky area with lots of gray. The truth is that, as Clotilde was so upset to find out, recipes are not protected by copyright. In particular the ingredient list really isn’t, but the directions can be. Maybe this is something the blogging/recipe developing/cookbook author community can lobby to change? So then it becomes an issue of personal ethics rather than the law.

    We are all inspired by the numerous blogs, websites, and cookbooks we read. And then many of us make new creations from there and I think that’s a beautiful thing. But I also think it’s really important to credit that source.

    I recently was in the opposite position. I developed a recipe for an article I wrote and a famous cookbook author contacted my editor with concerns that my recipe looked an awful lot like hers. I was mortified because I respect this author and swear that I hadn’t even seen her version, but knew she probably didn’t believe me.

    • diannejacob says

      Kudos for you for just linking to the recipe and not trying to adapt it for your blog, Katherine.

      I don’t know if copyright protection for recipes would be a good thing. Considering how often people come up with recipes and then find that they exist elsewhere, it might cause more trouble to try to protect them. Think of what a position you would be in with the famous cookbook author if she could sue you and the magazine for copyright infringement.

      • says

        You make a strong point, as usual. I suppose the answer has to be more posts like this and a balance of vigilance and understanding within the community. Thanks, Dianne, for providing a space to discuss these things.

  8. says

    thanks for such a timely post, I found two of my recipes with my pictures on Tastebook, I will check out the other sites as soon as possible, and pass all this information on to my readers.

    We found a blogger whose entire blog had been populated with other users recipes and pictures, and she also had ebooks out. She even put her logo on other peoples pictures. She is no longer around but we keep waiting for her to resurface

    thanks again for all you do!

    • diannejacob says

      So you had not put them on Tastebook, but they showed up there, just like the food blogger I mentioned. Fascinating! I wonder how it happened.

      Next time you find a situation like that, let me know. I love juicy stories for my blog. Fantastic that she is no longer around. If you had something to do with it, congratulations.

      • says

        No I never put them up on Tastebook, someone else did, although their credited to my site what good does it do if my picture and recipe are there for the taking. I sent them an email asking they be taken down, and any to contact me concerning the charges for using my images….lol, like that will hapen!
        The person we ran out of town had other bloggers images all over the web with her logo on them…how brazen was that, and she had the nerve to have a copyright statement on her blog. I don’t think she made one thing, just copied and pasted.
        Up to the end she was blaming me publicly for harassing her and hacking into her account , she was really crazy. I had a lot of help running her down, and one mistake she made was stealing images from a community owned by scripps. They were pursing it, but I haven’t heard anymore.
        I’ll let you know if I find any more of my work, and I will definitely share this link with my readers this week.

          • diannejacob says

            It looks like someone named Teresa is putting up blogger recipes. I’ve decided that it’s possible she is no idea she shouldn’t be doing it.

          • says

            That person Teresa is definitely in violation of the Tastebook terms of service for uploading photos that are not hers. I don’t think it’s malicious, since she is providing links to each original recipe post. But perhaps Tastebook needs to make it more obvious to the uploader that photo stealing is wrong.

      • says

        Last year, when Chef Dennis posted about this woman, I got involved and tried to help by gathering evidence against her and reporting her to a stock photo agency she had stolen from. She had actually used Photoshop to, rather ineffectually, erase their watermark, and then placed her own logo over the image. The extent of her activity, and the bizarre nature of her response in attacking Chef Dennis, was such that she was clearly not just a naive blogger. Knowing that parasites like her are on the prowl led me to compile a tutorial called Seven Easy Ways to Deter Content Theft:


        As bloggers we need to take a pro-active, three-pronged approach: 1) make sure we’re not inadvertently guilty of ripping people off themselves, 2) protect our blogs and 3) watch each other’s backs.

        And yes, Chef Dennis deserves a great deal of credit, as he did more than his fair share to shut her down and to raise awareness of the issue. We need more bloggers like him in the community!

        • diannejacob says

          Unbelievable that she erased the watermark and placed her own logo over the image. You have to wonder what goes on in the minds of people like that. Cheers to chef Dennis for shutting her down. Great list, Ruby. I hope people click over to it.

  9. says

    I recently found out that a writer for Saveur lifted one of my recipes, adjusting it very very slightly. For instance, I wrote “2 tablespoons pickling spice (cinnamon, mustard seed, allspice berries, cloves, black peppercorns etc.)” and she specified specific measurements for cinnamon, mustard seed, allspice, cloves and black peppercorns. The whole thing felt hurtful and insulting since it took me a long while and good amount of testing to produce the recipe. I’m still not sure what to do about it.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes. Whenever people tell me that “all they have to do is change 3 things,” I say no. This a perfect example of how it was your recipe, and changing 3 things didn’t result in anything significant. I would send your recipe to an editor at Saveur and let them know how long you labored over it. They might not want to trust that writer with another assignment.

  10. says

    As I was writing my own post about my recipes being lifted, I happened to check my email and find this post from your feed. I’m by no means a big name blogger, but I have had this happen to me three times in the past few days. Twice my recipes and photographs were both republished (and not by scraper sites, I might add–it was by actual people who seemed to think what they were doing was just fine as long as they mentioned that the content was from me) and the third was a recipe that was published verbatim, without any alterations on a popular (non-food) blog. I found that one on Pinterest–a few of my followers had pinned it. Then I found that the recipe seemed to be going viral on Pinterest. My recipe! Verbatim! On someone else’s blog! I was literally in tears over it and began to question whether I should be blogging at all. I would like to make at least a small income from it (and I am), but it’s difficult with people stealing my work right and left. I have worked so hard to gain popularity and recognition, but I never thought about this as the downside to success–I guess I was naive!

    I suppose I don’t have much insight or advice to add (other than kvetching about my own irritation), but I appreciate the discussion. I keep hearing people talking about how the internet is now entering the age of curation, rather than creation, so I guess if this is true, we’re going to have to brace ourselves for even more content lifting. People seem to have the impression that anything that appears online is fair game.

  11. says

    Very important topic. Last year a reader tipped me off that someone had taken a recipe I’d developed for a web column and was selling it on eBay. The seller described it as “an old family recipe passed down through the ages.” Yeah – or one that I’d developed in my kitchen a month before! Very unsettling!

      • says

        Yep, just the recipe and my photograph of it! No link to the story that went with it (naturally, I guess). I didn’t realize it either, but it turns out there are LOTS of recipes for sale on ebay. After what happened, my guess is that the vast majority of them are scams…

  12. Gina says

    With so much discussion about ethics, plagiarism, tweaking recipes and calling them your own, my question is about “national dishes” – one or two dishes that represent the soul of a country and are omnipresent at national celebrations, holiday gatherings, etc. The basic ingredients and preparation are pretty standard, but with some personal and regional variations. For example, my grandmother’s recipe for the national dish of Poland, bigos (hunters stew), might differ slightly from yours, or a published recipe, but throughout the country, it’s pretty consistent. (Who knows where a published recipe originated? After all it’s a national dish.)
    How might such recipes be published without concern for plagiarism, yet remain as true to authentic as possible?

    • diannejacob says

      Describe the dish and your grandmother in the headnote and use evocative language. Say that there are many versions and you don’t know where this dish originated, just that she always made it and you want to honor her — something like that.That way you are being as honest as possible about your process.

  13. says

    what an important topic you’re covering here. This is what I’ve been afraid of since starting my blog and why I don’t put every recipe I’ve developed out there. I know a food blog is for sharing recipes, but I just feel like until I put my own books together, this is always going to be something that could happen. What do other food bloggers feel about how many recipes to publish on a blog versus talking about food in other ways?

    • says

      Yvonne & Dianne,

      Until recently, (the past six months), my blog was more food writing and sustainability issues than recipe-based. I might add, it’s a small, specialized blog with little traffic. I’ve posted more recipes in the last six months than the last two years. One thing I have noticed is that I have more chatter on Twitter and FB and more traffic to my blog when I post a recipe as opposed to straight food writing. I’ll continue to keep a balance on my blog with food writing, issues, trends and recipes but now I know that I’ll have to keep my eyes wide open going forward.


      • diannejacob says

        That’s interesting to me, Maureen, that you get more buzz from posting recipes than straight food writing. On the other hand, recipes are a lot more work, so you deserve it.

  14. says

    It is such an important issue and thank you for bringing out such vital pointers. It reminds me I do not even have a “copyright statement” on either of my blogs. Got to get it , pronto!

  15. says

    What a fascinating subject. This must happen often, intentionally or unintentionally – there are just SO many sources of recipes in this world. I’m always very careful to give credit when I use someone else’s recipe, and generally adapt a little bit here and there anyway through what I’ve got in the cupboard etc – even if I’ve adapted it significantly, I always give credit. On the other hand, some original recipes that you think up are just naturally going to coincide with what someone else has written – I think it’s just good to stay aware of it, really!

    • diannejacob says

      I get your points about adapting and about original recipes, and they are valid. What I’m talking about here is cutting and pasting someone’s work and presenting it as your own, with or without credit to the original writer. I think that’s a more dire situation. I also don’t get the sense that most bloggers who read my posts — including you — would ever do such a thing. It’s more about finding out who’s doing it to you!

  16. says

    A very aggravating issue. What bothers me most is the blatant theft of my photos — obviously, I have no way to catch it all, but once so often I stumble across a site that lifted my photos, no attribution. Makes me glad that I’ve started using watermarks. And it’s such a hassle to try to find a way to contact all these semi-professional sites and ask them to at least link and credit — who has the energy for that?

    You were mentioning above the issue of recipes not being subject to copyright — easy way to fix that is to inject a few personal opinions into the instructions i.e., “I find it easier to do such-and-such.” It’s a nice touch when writing on a blog in any case, and when someone lazily copies and pastes your entire recipe, it gives you every right to ask to have it taken down.

  17. says

    I don’t think issue is going to go away very easily at all.
    I’ve not seen any of my recipes copied, but then I haven’t really looked, either.
    It is difficult to know what can be done about this – it will be very difficult (if not almost impossible) to bring in legal restraints that will cross international borders. I suspect the best we can do is to educate and encourage bloggers to take an ethical approach in their writing.

    • diannejacob says

      Yep, hence the point of this post. Now the question is whether I am preaching to the converted or whether I am really reaching anyone who copies recipes. No way to know unless they blatantly bring it up in the comments.

  18. says

    I’m so glad you ran with this topic, Dianne. Even though we readers of your blog are, generally speaking, the choir, developing a sense of community among ourselves can give each of us the courage of our convictions when we may most need it.

    As a former practicing lawyer, I am stuck on two things:

    1. Clotilde’s experience, which has me feeling like the time may finally have come for me to do some more in-depth legal research (yay! more unpaid work!) on the subject of copyright protection for even the recipe process. I am shocked that hers was not protected, as I had understood that it was.

    2. Conversely, regardless of the author’s rights, enforcement costs time and money. It’s rarely the right answer.

    All of this leads me right back to where you started, Dianne. Education. And the right kind of education. The kind that doesn’t leave others feeling defensive. Because while I have had my share of revenge fantasies, you catch more flies with honey.

    But how? There’s enough energy behind this to make a difference. How?

    Thank you, Dianne.


    • diannejacob says

      I have had to learn to make people less defensive, and it’s not easy for me, Nicole. I think I have the greatest chance at food blogging conferences, where I often speak. The thing is, I just spoke at Food Blog South about ethics, and I ASSUMED that everyone in the audience knew they’re not supposed to copy recipes verbatim. After reading Gwen’s comment, I may have been mistaken.

  19. says

    Content theft is getting worse. It’s one thing to have your stuff scraped and reposted on another site – at least you can find it on Google or by using some content protection service. What if it (like Elise) gets put in an ebook or in an actual printed cookbook? There’s no way to catch it all.

    It makes me think that it’s probably too much for little ol’ me to worry about. Kalyn tweeted that she’d need to hire a full-time person just to find and chase after all the people copying her stuff. I can’t do that, and neither can 99% of the other food bloggers out there.

    I think I’m going to rewrite my “copyright” widget to explicitly say that when posting about our recipes, copying is not allowed, attributing is required, and asking permission first is highly encouraged.

    • diannejacob says

      That sounds like a sensible approach, Nate. Every once in a while you can look around also. I wouldn’t close my eyes completely.

  20. says

    This entire issue of stealing content is crazy-making. Last week I came across a blog post in which the blogger lifted my entire recipe verbatim PLUS a photo of mine, yet credited me with a link (which is how I found it). I politely asked her to remove everything, simultaneously trying not to hurt her feelings at being chastized for praising me and (I’m sure), in her mind, doing me a favor of free publicity. My problem is that I almost never find these things–even when I’ve gone looking, it seems you need the exact title to remain the same (or something) in order for your stuff to actually show up. For instance, your link to Tastebook produces what looks like a home page–how would one search for one’s recipes there?

    • diannejacob says

      I’m sure she thought she was doing the right thing by crediting you. I”m going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Still, I agree that it is crazy-making.

      Re Tastebook, I tried searching based on a list of recipe ingredients. The first several pages were from big recipe database sites like Epicurious. So I don’t know the answer. Maybe someone else reading this does?

  21. says

    Thank you Dianne for bringing up this important issue. I want to bring up a different slant to this debate that I think needs to be talked about.

    Before I start I want to state for the record that in the close to 15 years we have been running Joyofbaking.com we have always, without fail, followed both industry etiquette that you yourself teach, as well as copyright law. We always completely rewrite our recipes and in almost every case modify the ingredient listings. Even if there is the smallest inspiration gleaned from a book we reference it and link to the book so it can be purchased on Amazon. We sell many books for these authors this way.

    Because of actions taken in the last month by a number of baking authors we are now faced with the prospect of removing all attribution and now following the letter of the law which states recipes are public domain and therefore attribution is not necessary. We think this is a tragedy however we may have no choice.

    Last month we were hit with a DMCA take down of one of our recipes. The author that issued the take down was referenced on the page in question making it easy for her to Google her name and find it on our site. The recipe was radically changed and the instructions weren’t even close and since it was a cake, only applied to the frosting, not the cake itself. Even the legal assistant at the publisher that issued the takedown admitted to me that I have a point after seeing the difference in the copy. This doesn’t even take into account that recipes aren’t copyrightable in the first place. It appeared the author simply looked for her name and assumed it was copied and pasted and obviously didn’t know the law even if it was the same. We appealed the takedown and won.

    Since then we have heard from another author directly and another author’s assistant. The first one wanted us to take down one of her recipes that was also modified and ironically she emailed us two years ago about the same recipe thanking us for posting it and referencing her book. In the case of the author’s assistant it was a very angry email that we are adapting the author’s recipes. Those recipes had been on the site for 10 years now and at the time the author’s publicist actually contacted us with a review copy of the book and encouraged us to post some recipes and promote the book which we did. We continue to sell this author’s books on Amazon more than any other and have sold significantly numbers even very recently. We have come to hear there are other baking authors angry at us and we may be receiving more hate mail in the future. It appears from what I’ve heard that the net is affecting cookbook sales and they are angry at us for that.
    Dianne I know you spend a lot of effort educating bloggers on the law, etiquette and ethics of recipe attribution and I applaud you for that. Unfortunately it seems to me that the lack of understanding is not confined to bloggers, but to seasoned cookbook authors as well. I personally have to question the ethics of unlawful DMCA take downs and baseless hate mail. It is pretty clear to me based on my recent experience and that of others in previous postings, that copyright law regarding recipes is not understood by authors and it needs to be.

    As a result of this experience we are now faced with the prospect of following the letter of the law, not industry etiquette and not providing attribution. This is something we would rather not do. But since the attribution link makes it easy for an author to Google their name we may have no choice. Bloggers that do the same need to take note and consider the overall repercussions of industry etiquette because it may come back to bite you like it did us.

    I certainly hope you will continue this education and make it clear to everyone that recipes are NOT copyrightable even if they are copied and pasted. Contrary to popular belief this includes the instructions unless the author can prove substantial literary expression which is difficult to do. Head notes, photos, step-by-step instructions and photos, and videos are examples of substantial literary expression. We can all talk about how this is wrong, but it is what it is and the big recipe sites know this. I would argue they are the ones causing the most damage to cookbook sales because almost everyone’s recipes are on their sites somewhere and as long as they only use the instructions and ingredients and not the head note or picture they are fully within the law. Ironically while all this infighting amongst people in the industry is going on, they are just getting stronger by staying out of it.

    In my view authors and bloggers need to accept the fact that you can’t protect recipes and focus on the content areas that are protectable. What we do is provide an excellent recipe which we know will be copied, but also protectable content such as a head note, photo, support on Facebook and now videos. It is this type of content that differentiates us from the recipe mills. I would suggest that authors and bloggers also focus on the types of content they can protect and we won’t need to have this discussion. Then if the protectable types of content are copied, by all means use DMCA law to protect your property.
    Rick Jaworski
    CEO iFood Media LLC

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Rick, thank you for this long letter. I’m sorry that this keeps happening to you, since Stephanie adapts the recipes and that seems to be perfectly legal. If you take the references off, I think that would be worse. It is the polite thing to do when a cookbook author’s recipe inspires one of your own.

      “Substantial literary expression” is something I need to explore more. The recipe’s method does not necessarily qualify, as Clotilde explained in the comments. And while photos are protected, they are stolen all the time.

      • Stephanie Jaworski says

        What Clotilde is talking about is totally different than what has happened to me. When I adapt recipes I always give credit and a link to amazon to purchase the book. However, in the last month I have had one DMCA takedown and two nasty emails and all three related to recipes that I had substantially adapted and had given credit to the author and a link to purchase their book on amazon. So, obviously, authors do not like websites and blogs adapting their recipes and promoting their books. What other conclusion can I draw from what has happened to me?
        Stephanie Jaworski

        • diannejacob says

          You can conclude that some authors don’t like it. Not all authors feel that way. Some are thrilled that you are helping to raise recognition of their work and sell their books, when you include a link to Amazon.

          • Stephanie Jaworski says

            Point taken. The problem is that two of the three authors actually indicated to me in the past that they liked what I did with their recipes and how I promoted their books. So, my question is “How do I know who likes it now and who doesn’t and who has changed their mind on this point of adaption and promotion of their books?” Because all three adapted recipes in question had been on the site for years.

  22. says

    I do think there is some naivet’e9 about copyright and have found some content of mine used beyond what is appropriate. In most cases with a polite email the website owner removes it. In one case I had to invoke the help of WordPress who took the link down within 2 hours after the site owner did not respond. It was a WordPress blog using the content unauthorized and I was really impressed at how quickly they responded.

    I have recently had the experience of a Pinner on Pinterest cut and pasting my entire recipe into the content box with a photo of mine she pinned, of course distributing content unknowingly. I’ve heard similar reports from other bloggers. In my case I left a polite comment and pinner immediately modified the post to an ingredient list (no measurements) only as she was consolidating recipes she likes for easy shopping. Pinterest takes this type of issue seriously and has a DMCA process as well. I was happy that was not necessary in my case.

    It would be tragic to convert the love for our craft into constantly having to look over our shoulders for those unscrupulous, but it is a fact of life. I think pursuing it is important as that will hopefully lead to better practices for online content protection.

    • says

      (This was cut out of my original comment above…..)

      Hi Dianne. I’ve just read your article as well as Elise’s as you suggested, including the comments. It is unfortunate that this is even a topic we need to discuss but it is. I found through a friend one of my recipes and photographs is on TastyBook and I have now sent them an email asking it be removed. I post All Rights Reserved on my website as well as have a copyrighting date/stamp service which is a helpful thing to consider were a situation like this to come up. I do use Google Alerts for my blog and despite my blog name being listed on the TastyBook recipe (no link) Google did not catch it.

  23. says

    Plagiarism is an issue anywhere there is a written word. Unfortunately, there’s not much that’s new under the sun and I’ve been adapting and using recipes from my hundreds of cookbooks for years. The recipes have changed, most of the time beyond recognition, but how much do you have to change a recipe for it to be considered original? Or is it OK to cite the source?

    Now I’m working on a cookbook proposal (a very long and drawn-out process) and I’m reluctant to include any of my own recipes on my blog, lest I be accused of plagiarism. Can you plagiarize yourself?

    • diannejacob says

      No, it doesn’t work that way, Joanne. A publisher expects that some of the recipes in your cookbook will come from your blog, just not the great majority. It’s more about sales — why would someone pay $35 for a cookbook when all the recipes are free online?

      • says

        Thanks, Dianne. I’m feverishly working on my proposal so I’ll have it with me when I come west. I’ve taken to writing about, rather than including, my recipes on my blog and website. It’s been and will continue to be an interesting journey.

  24. says

    “We had an intern spot-check some of the recipes the author had submitted, and we found a third had also come from the Internet. ”

    EEEEEEEK! A cookbook author? Dear god, that’s frightening.

    • diannejacob says

      Just goes to show you that it isn’t always some foreigner trolling the Internet looking for a way to make a buck.

  25. says

    My sense has long been that very few “original” recipes are truly original. And by that I mean that likely 90%+ of the people who feel their work has been stolen are actually thieves themselves, having – at best – cobbled together a few disparate recipes into something that seems unique; more likely it’s a close match to something that’s out there dozens of times over. Especially with baked goods, it’s simple to find previous incarnations of contemporary “originals”.

    True recipe development is generally a long process, where the end product’s ingredients and/or ingredient ratios and/or steps differ markedly from even recipes that share the same name. Very few people put forth the time and effort required to make that happen.

    That said, I generally don’t care when my original recipes get stolen. I’ve had one lifted by a restaurant chain and had one lifted, in great part, by Bobby Flay’s team for an episode of Throwdown. If anything, I found it flattering. Why should I be upset? Yes, they profit from it, but I made the recipes because I wanted people to enjoy them. That chain and Flay’s team did more to expose those recipes than I ever would have.

    The only problem I do have with those who steal recipes is that, when they’re a prominent blogger or author who’s stealing, they disadvantage others who have done the real work. When ‘S.K.’ “adapted” a 2000 Gourmet Magazine recipe for her site, it rocketed to #1 on Google. My recipe of the same category/name, will always be at the #2 spot because I can’t compete with a blog of that size.

    I don’t steal recipes because I’m only interested in sharing my originals, and as I said, for the most part I really don’t care if they’re stolen without credit. Maybe I’m alone in that regard, but I don’t get how it’s anything more than frustrating to expect the thieves to behave more ethically; they won’t.

    • diannejacob says

      I don’t think you’re alone in that regard, Adam, and I do appreciate your perspective. It’s true that many recipes are adapted from others, but not everyone does it. Some people are inspired by the farmer’s market, restaurants, and travel, not by looking at prior recipes and changing three ingredients. As you say, they are the minority. Bloggers, especially, often don’t feel qualified or don’t think it’s worth the trouble, since their recipes can be so easily copied.

      I suppose you achieved your goal that more people enjoyed the recipe when it was lifted. It sounds altruistic to me. It must be much harder for someone who makes a living from writing recipes.

      • James says

        Food isn’t nearly as original as most people think. What happens when you copyright your original recipe and you find some poor grandmother came up with the exact same thing. Will she have to license it from you?

  26. says

    Hi Dianne. As I shared with you separately I learned via this article I too had a recipe and photo that were posted onto TasteBook without my permission. I wrote to them right away with this finding and was delighted to receive this response explaining their site policies with regard to content use and removing my unauthorized content:

    Thank you for contacting us with this information.

    We have tools in place to catch many of our users who are using recipes which are not their own, but some users trick the system and use different source codes.

    I have put the user account on hold and contacted the user letting them know that they are in violation of our terms of service. By putting them on hold, what they have added to their TasteBooks account will not be accessible. We will also remove these recipes from their accounts.

    If you find any additional recipes, please let us know so we can take care of the issue.

    TasteBook Support

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks for putting this into the comments, Toni. It shows that some sites respond to requests to remove copied content, even though technically, they don’t have to get authorization from you to display the recipes, since they are not copyrighted.

  27. says

    I think one of the reasons many people don’t realise that it is not ok to lift recipes is that for many people, a food blog is a record of things they have cooked, which they are sharing. They might want to post a recipe they made with a few changes or with none at all but rewritten in their own words. They link to the original recipe, take their own photos and give credit where credit is due.

    I am not a recipe developer/writer. I cook and share recipes (admittedly, I change things) as an extension of the fact that I would do this in my daily life (eg emailing a recipe to a friend or lending them a cookbook). I think this is why we, as food bloggers, make genuine mistakes in this area.

    I think if you do not want any of your recipes reposted, re-blogged, adapted or whatever, you need to state this on your blog, explicitly. Maybe you shouldn’t have to, but a lot of people do not realise how strict copyright law can be. Spell it out for them, and when they do the wrong thing, direct them to your policy. For example:

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, sounds logical. I also copy recipes for people. But I don’t publish them, nor do I pretend that I made them. For more guidelines, I like this poston recipe attribution by David Lebovitz.

  28. says

    Hi, I’m the co-founder of Velvet Aroma. I think there may be some misunderstanding here regarding Velvet Aroma.

    My co-founder and I are both food bloggers and are building a service to discover and build relationships between food bloggers and readers. Our goal is to build something that is mutually beneficial for bloggers and the average cook. Many of our users and featured bloggers have been excited about what we’ve created!

    Perhaps our FAQ answers some of your questions: http://www.velvetaroma.com/support/faq/

    But if not, I’m always available via phone or email.. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to ping me at: raj@velvetaroma.com

    Take care,

    • diannejacob says

      Hey Raj, I think we met at IACP last year. Thanks for reading this post and for offering your email to my readers.

    • diannejacob says

      This post is about recipes appearing verbatim elsewhere. Adapting implies that the person has changed the recipe and preferably the language. That is not as much about plagiarism.

  29. says

    I read every comment on this post. I just wrote a cookbook and like everyone else I am too concerned that all my hard work on a recipe will be lifted. Here’s the problem though, cookies, muffins, roasts, potato salad, tacos, marinara sauce. How about satay? Stroganoff? Brownies? I can’t tell you how many times I wrote a recipe, only to find out that my peanut butter cookie is really close to another recipe writers version.
    In fact, I almost stopped work on a cookbook because “my” idea complete with the title of the book, was just published by someone else!
    You can’t lay claim to an original if it’s a classic. You can’t think your the only one with an idea. But you can tell who copied your tone and words to the letter, or took your picture and guess what?… The Universe will get even.

    • diannejacob says

      It’s not about trying to write an original recipe. It’s about, as you say, what you bring to it: your voice, your musings, your advice – -the wording that makes the recipe identifiable as yours. Regarding how you wrote a cookbook and you’re concerned that your work will be lifted, I’m not sure you can control that. I’m pretty sure you can’t, as a matter of fact.

  30. says

    A very interesting post, and a lot of great comments and suggestions have been made. I have only two things to add:

    1. If recipe instructions are copyrightable if they contain substantial literary expression…then write instructions with substantial literary expression. The more of YOU that you put into your writing–the more keenly the reader can feel YOU in your recipes–the harder is for blaggers (LOVE that term) to have a legal leg to stand on. Of course, they can dumb down your eloquent writing, and the recipe will then fall into the un-copyrightable camp–which is fine. Do you really want your name on such poorly written rubbish? And with such generic language, it becomes somehow less special.

    I think the newspaper and magazine industries are a bit to blame for the neutering of recipes–and making them easy prey for ripping off. I remember when I first started developing recipe for publications, I wrote like me. Like David. There were Davidism in the recipes. But that came to an abrupt end when one editor said, “Oh, in the future don’t write like that, or we’ll have to strip it all out. It takes time and we don’t have that kind of time.” What appeared was an article, written in my voice, that suddenly skidded into generic un-creative-land and had no relationship to what I wrote in the article. It sounded like Rosey the robot from “The Jetsons” had written it.

    I’m now trying to think of my recipes as an extension of my writing. I’d like the dividing between them to be the recipe title and yield.

    2. You can quickly discover who’s using your images by going to http://www.tineye.com. Magical.


    • says

      I have been thinking about this issue more than usual lately, because of this post, Dianne, trying to understand my own reaction to it all. I think David really hit on something important here.
      First, I had a similar experience in writing for a publication, where they stripped my voice completely out of it, making it nearly indecipherable in the process. I’m sure it was a much less illustrious publication and frankly I had increasingly less respect for the editor as time went on, but I refused to allow them to publish the piece with my name on it in its hyper-edited form. I told them they could use the content, but that I didn’t want my name on it. They relented, restored my voice, and it was in fact published with my name (although I made it clear that I will never write for them again). That experience bothered me tremendously. Which leads me to this…

      What David said helped me realize that perhaps plagiarism is more of a problem for the one doing the lifting than it is for me, in the long run. I don’t want my name on something that isn’t in my voice. When it’s a verbatim transcription of something from my book, I’m more likely to take action (like what happened to Clotilde, which will no doubt stay with me for a long time). But anything short of that, I’d pretty much rather not be associated with it at all. I am truly touched and grateful when someone has made a recipe of mine, showed their results in photos, and linked back to me rather than posting the recipe at all. That is the flattering sort of imitation. The rest? I think I’ll have to learn to live with it, lest it swallow me whole.

      One more point I wanted to make, where the above might not apply (at least for me): I think, perhaps, recipe development for gluten-free baked goods does tend to be a different animal entirely, which could account for my sensitivity when it comes to plagiarism of those particular recipes of mine. It’s the wild wild west. No one knows everything, since it’s comparatively too new. Gluten-free cooking is mostly like everything else, but GF baking (particularly with yeast) is different – a true innovation. Hands off my White Sandwich Bread. I used nothing but ratios and science as a guide to creating that recipe, and if someone repeated it and called it their own, I’m not sure I could be considered responsible for my own actions!


      • diannejacob says

        Speaking as an editor, I think they went way too far! That is a sad story, Nicole. Maybe the editor was young and not every experienced? I have been there.

        Re voice, the joy of blogging is that you can write a recipe the way you want it. That may not be true when it comes to writing a cookbook or writing for magazines. So please enjoy it, because you are in charge.

        Re GF bread, it is a lot of work to get to something that looks and tastes like the real thing, I agree. But I don’t see how you can control what other people do with your recipe after you release it out into the world. That’s a chance you take when you publish. It sounds like you are making peace with it.

        • says

          Not a young editor at all, Dianne! Just a very controlling, unkind, crazy one. That’s why I will never ever write for her again. And I later learned that my experience is not unique with this particular editor.
          When I write for other magazines, I try to mold my voice to mimic their style, so they can keep as much of what I write as possible. Ultimately, they are buying my recipe – and my text. So it really is up to them. It’s not really my favorite thing to do, to be honest, for those reasons and many others!


    • diannejacob says

      Hello young man. Re your points, you must have been reading my mind. As a result of this post, I am thinking about an upcoming one about “substantial literary expression.” I have heard you talk about this many times, ex. dump the potatoes into the pot, etc.

      Having been a magazine editor, I can say that many magazines are supposed to have a certain amount of uniformity. They are supposed to speak with one voice. I suppose that leads to plainness in recipe writing. But that doesn’t justify getting ripped off. And anyway, that’s what’s great about blogs. Bloggers have the opportunity to make a blog recipe as individual as they want, because it’s theirs and their blog is all about them.

  31. says

    One more thing to add–there is a precedent for recipes being protected under copyright law. This, from “The Los Angeles Times,” refers to two food writers, Richard Olney and Richard Nelson.:

    “In 1983, The Washingtonian broke the amazing story that caused a national cookbook scandal. It was alleged that Richard Nelson used 39 recipes from “Simple French Food” in his “Richard Nelson’s American Cooking” without attribution, even mimicking Olney’s turns of phrase. (It seems American and French cooking have more in common than most people think.)”


    This comes down to the issue of fair usage. Anyone–you or someone else–is protected under fair usage. That usually maxes out at using three recipes without permission. Nelson used an inordinate number of recipes, didn’t attribute them, and used some of Olney’s language (significant literary expresion), while still adapting them. He lost.

    So, if you see someone using a significant numbers of your recipes from your book or blog (a blog is considered a compilation)–or you’re using a large number of recipes from another’s work (adapting or not)–there is a true and legal precedent that can be referred to to stop them or have you stopped.

    • John Eddy says

      Sorry, Dianne, but thats horrible analysis.

      There is only prescedent here for *suing* not for winning. If you note the article linked to, they didnt win the case, they settled.

      If you want to find legal prescedent for something, find a case where the judge and jury made a decision.

      That said: There are two sides to the copyright protection of a recipe, as laid out in the government’s own documentation here: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html

      List of ingredients: Not protected.
      The metaphorial steps: Not protected (ie, the fact you have to bake at 350F for 25 minutes, mix well, etc).
      The descriptions of the steps: Protected.

    • says

      People sue for things all the time even when their chances of winning are minimal. When you have enough lawyer power behind you, you can turn that baseless lawsuit into a hefty settlement. It’s often cheaper for the other party.

      That being said, as an attorney food blogger, I am constantly asked about copyright and stolen content. It was so prevalent at one point, I wrote instructions on how to write a DMCA takedown notice (http://www.bakingbarrister.com/2011/01/bsa-copyright-infringement-dmca.html).

      Anyway, I try to caution bloggers that a list of ingredients and the process of making a dish are not subject to copyright. The word-for-word written instructions generally are. Besides being impolite, it’s most likely illegal to copy and paste a recipe onto your own blog.

      It’s also wise — from a legal standpoint — to credit the original author when you’ve adapted content. It provides a stronger argument for fair use. And it’s the ethical thing to do.

      I think what we’re seeing a lot of is complaints about stolen or reposted photographs. Tastebook and Feastie are downloading a blogger’s photo; cropping it; and then reposting it on their own servers. That is copyright infringement — even with credit and a link back. They are creating another copy of a photo without the author’s permission. The same goes for people who just steal a full photo and use it on their site, usually without credit.

      The reposted photos are what bother me the most. Even if they’re not amazing, I have spent a lot of time, energy and money in learning how to take and edit better photos. I want to control where they are and how they are edited into a 250px square. I want to choose when I let use someone my photo in exchange for traffic. And as the author of my photos, doing so is my legal right.

      • diannejacob says

        How wonderful to hear from someone who is both a lawyer and food blogger! A perfect combination for this post.

        You say “most likely illegal” to copy and paste a recipe into your own blog. But we don’t know for sure?

        • says

          I say “most likely illegal” because there are few certainties in the land of the law. One little factoid can flip a case on its side. (Plus I don’t want people to think I’m giving legal advice — I’m not, BTW 😀 )

          But what I’m really referring to is fair use, which is a defense to copyright infringement. Detailed, written instructions have some “literary expression,” which means they are copyrightable. When you reprint them word for word, you are violating copyright law unless you can prove fair use. Fair use an amorphous concept that requires an in-depth analysis of (a) the nature of the work (b) how it’s being used (c) how much/what is being used (d) the impact of use on the market value of the work.

          Say you reprint instructions word-for-word and add parenthetical notes of what something looks or feels like. And you reformat it and add a bunch of pictures. And you tell a story about making the recipe. Well, you may be able to claim fair use since you’re “transforming” the work.

          But if you make money off of your blog, the above changes may be moot. You’re suddenly using someone else’s work for-profit. What could have been fair use may now be illegal.

          It’s just not a good idea to rely on fair use if you can’t afford an in-depth legal consultation. *I* don’t even rely on fair use. If i decide to post about a recipe I saw in Bon Appetit, I link to the recipe and follow up with some comments on the process/things I may have had difficulty with. If I heavily adapted the recipe, I rewrite the instructions in my own words and STILL say where I adapted it from.

          Just because there is a little wiggle room, it doesn’t mean you should wiggle!

          • says

            Baking Barrister said it all quite well. Litigation, especially in this arena, is pretty much going to be a nonstarter. Who has the resources to pursue that? I think our best tool is social pressure, as informed generally by legal rights. The question remains, though, how to create more (enough) of that social pressure.


      • says

        Hi BB: I’m interested in what you said about ‘cropped’ photos, or photos posted on another server. Since Facebook and Google (and sites like Tastebook, etc..) are posting thumbnails from blogs, I read that they fell into the “fair use” category, because they are (or at least should be..) linking to the original content/post/photo.

        (I did some research for an article I was writing about that, and “fair use” was the best answer that I found.)

        That’s how I would imagine that Facebook and Google are allowed to do it. If not, how can they do it?

        • says

          David —
          Let me clarify my statement. Thumbnails are copyright infringement unless a defendant can prove fair use. Fair use is a complete defense to infringement.
          There are two cases in the 9th Circuit I know of that speak to thumbnails, and they both deal with search engines. One is Kelly v. Arriba-Soft. The court said thumbnails, though infringing, are fair use because the search engine was using them in a transformative way. The copies were much smaller and of lower quality, so the use didn’t affect the value of the work.
          Then there is Perfect 10 v. Amazon, which involves Google. Again, its thumbnails are “highly transformative” — the search engine is helping the public retrieve information. But there was also talk about how Google and other search engines use inline/hot links. It doesn’t host the images on its own servers according to the court opinion.
          There are plenty of ways to differentiate sites like Tastebook from Google. It uses thumbnails AND posts a larger photo on a page with recipe ingredients. Velvet Aroma seems to host the photos on its servers. The images are also large enough and high-quality.
          Any number of factors can lead a court to decide a specific set of thumbnails is protected by fair use. Plus, these cases are in the 9th Circuit. They’re not legally binding elsewhere in the country.
          All of this leads me to conclude that, while there is a very good argument for fair use, it does not necessarily apply every time one encounters thumbnails.

          • says

            Thanks – I was just unsure of how that worked and wondered how Google and Facebook got around it. (I know Huffington Post and other aggregating sites used to take photos from newspapers, but that got stopped, I believe.)

            I’ve seen a number of images taken from sites, and posted on various blogs (with or without attribution, or links) and was trying to incorporate this all into an article I’m writing, so appreciate the clarification.

            In the bigger picture, I guess I don’t really understand why someone would put other people’s photos on their blogs. If it’s a personal blog, I would think people would want their own pictures on their sites, and readers would be coming there to see their photos, and read their recipes and texts… not information cut-and-pasted from elsewhere. Thanks!

    • diannejacob says

      Fascinating story. He used them verbatim, vs. adapting them. I wonder if anyone has sued when someone has adapted the same number of recipes.

      I put a link earlier about the definition of “fair use,” but it was for general usage, not for recipes. Where did you get the idea that 3 is the maximum number? From publishers? Is that documented somewhere as being the definition of “fair use” for cookbooks?

  32. says

    John, I just want to clarify that comment is from me, not Dianne. I’m not advocating suing nor taking legal action. And if you read the comment closely, nowhere did I mention “winning.” When I referred to Nelson having “lost,” it was in regards to him losing money in the settlement and the publication of his book.

    The intent of my comment was directing attention to the fact that recipes that are well written, with a significant literary expression (see my first comment) in the steps–those steps are copyrightable. It’s easy to lose sight of that. If we spent more time writing recipes that have a strong voice, unique syntax and vocabulary, and a literary significance, we have put our intellectual and creative stamp on our work. And, for me, this feels good.


  33. says

    Hi Dianne,
    I wanted to thank you for posting this!
    Although I’m still yet to hear from Tastespotting about my recipes being sold on their site, your post brought some relief to this whole situation.
    I’ve been following your previous advice and contacted Google and filed with dmca. My stuff is still there, but it’s a start. I can’t help but think how this has affected so many of us bloggers, if we act together and take a stand, maybe, just maybe, one or two of these thefts might not happen in the future.

    • diannejacob says

      Hey Dayna, great to hear from you. It’s good to read that you’re not alone, eh? It was Elise Bauer who suggested you file a DCMA. Technically, it may not be illegal for them to feature the text, but you can try.

  34. says

    There are some bloggers I follow that use the same recipe I’ve seen on a popular chef’s/food site, but write as “this is my mom’s recipe”, “i got it from my mother last summer”, etc. Or they’ll probably change a thing or two as you mentioned in your earlier post and call it their own – I don’t understand why some bloggers are ashamed to credit the source, whatever magazine or website they pick stuff up from. Trying to show readers how innovative they are to come up with perfect recipes themselves?
    And Ctrl+C – Ctrl+V is not just happening site to site – I’ve read some plagiarism issues from bloggers that I follow where some magazines copied the blogger’s photo & content and erased watermark – without permission, without mentioning the source, and without paying the blogger for using it.
    Another one where some ‘Linda’ copied a post’s content, image, even the 200 comments (changed names of each!) … and one person who even copied another blogger’s ‘About Me’ & pic along with some 150 recipes. It’s sad but hilarious.
    Those that figure out can take action, but who knows what stuff is being used where, may be in a foreign language, in a small city?
    Content theft is very difficult to monitor & control.

    • diannejacob says

      Well, that is sad about the blogger. I wonder why you follow that person. I don’t know why they don’t credit either.

      Agree that plagiarism is a issue on more than just the Internet. My third example is about a book, and now you have one about a magazine.

      Re where it’s happening, there’s ample evidence that it’s happening right here in the US of A, and around the world. It is not the “other” who is monetizing our products. It is us.

  35. says

    Just the other day, Kalyn lamented that someone was scraping her content and putting it (along with lots of other scraped food blogs) into an Android recipe app. This “publisher” had several other recipe apps, all featuring scraped content. Total violation of copyright. But there was no contact info anywhere to be found. The apps are free, but ad-supported so that’s how they get their revenue.

    Really not sure how anyone is going to prevent this kind of theft nowadays.

    • diannejacob says

      Wait — how is it a violation of copyright, since recipes are not copyrightable? It’s just unfortunate, and wrong.

        • diannejacob says

          I see. Wow, that’s terrible! It reminds me of something. Right now, a prominent company that I like has copied my entire website into frames. Is that the same kind of thing?

  36. says

    Good grief! As for Jeanne’s experience, I’m so glad she defended her work. At least she was able to try to head off trouble. Often, hard-working recipe developers/authors simply find their work already out there published and with someone else reaping the benefits. Like Adam I’ve had my work stolen by more prominent peeps, but, unlike him, I’m not flattered. I do create recipes from scratch and it’s expensive and time consuming. When an author “borrows” a recipe from one of my cookbooks and puts it in a competing cookbook with a couple cosmetic changes (which has happened more than once) it takes a significant economic toll on me and my publisher. Yet, my publishers have usually been reluctant to bring suit because litigation is too expensive. I don’t know what the solution might be–but the current climate makes it very difficult for those actually creating original recipes to continue to do so.

    BTW, my understanding from several intellectual property rights attorneys is that while a recipe formula (the ingredients list) is not copyrightable, the wording in both the intro and the directions is.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, that is true if the headnote and method have “substantial literary expression.” The title may be copyrightable as well.

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