After years of wondering if she should do so, she wrote her first cookbook, based on family recipes. Included was her grandmother’s spice cake, invented for her mother’s wedding cake, put into print for the world to share. It was the cake the author baked and took with her to book signings, the recipe that always worked.
And now that cake recipe is available online in a blog, published pretty much verbatim, except for the icing.
Close to 100 people have commented. They praise the cake, saying it is a perfect dessert, how one was planning to make a different cake and now would have to make this instead, how one wanted this cake for her wedding cake now. They praise its name. They say it looks amazing and awesome and yummy.
The commenters also praise the blogger for making the process look easy and accessible, how the cake looked awesome in the photo, and for her tip about using PAM spray.
The blogger wrote her post in the conventional manner. It began with a money shot of the dark cake with white icing (not the shot above), followed by several step-by-step photos a la Pioneer Woman. The blogger mentioned the cookbook by name — twice — and linked to it on Amazon. She wrote that recipe was “inspired by” the original.
When I asked the author if the post bothered her, she said, “I just think it’s funny…Lots of praise for the writer of the blog.” She noted that the blogger did not have to ask the publisher for permission because she wrote that the recipe was “inspired by.” I compared it to the original recipe and found the blogger made these changes: she used pumpkin pie spice instead of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; she reduced the vanilla to 1 teaspoon from 2; and she changed the icing. It’s still basically the same cake.
Is it odd that commenters praise the blogger as the maker of the cake, not the author of the recipe? Or is that just how food blogging works? Can you see how it might be disconcerting from the author’s perspective?
Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons
I feel a bit mixed about this. I’m glad credit was given to the author of the recipe. But I don’t believe that changing a couple ingredient is sufficient to say it’s an adaptation, it doesn’t warrant the “inspired by”. The problem is – at which point can you honestly say you’ve adapted a recipe?
On the other hand, the step-by-step photos add value to the recipe. This is content that wasn’t available (presumably) in the original recipe. Is this enough? Were the instructions/method changed, simplified? You say the recipe was copied verbatim – that’s not on.
I wish writers in general were more honest about where the recipes come from. As a reader, I always look to see who is the original author, but perhaps that’s just because I’m an author myself and concern myself with such things.
In the end, we have to accept that the moment we publish material, it will be stolen, copied, poached, imitated, “adapted”. This happens in all fields, not just food blogging.
Yeah, me too. I’m with you that the recipe was not changed enough.
Agreed that the photos and the blogger’s own tips added value. I did not check to see if the method was lifted verbatim. Maybe that would be too hard because in a blog post like this, the method functions more as captions to the photos.
Interesting subject, Dianne. I guess I am less bothered by the commenters–they are commenting on the recipe they found in a blog post. I’m more concerned with term ‘inspired’ that the blogger used, when she clearly changed very little in the recipe. Seems like she took the ‘fig leaf’ approach here.
Yes, but she changed three things, and many people think that’s enough. I don’t. They were not significant enough changes.
Tweaking a recipe is not sufficient for that recipe to become your recipe. An “inspired by” recipe would incorporate radical changes to the main constituents but follow the same technical methods as the original. Remember all the different versions of Claudia Roden’s Orange Cake circulating in the late 1980’s? Despite all the various attributions it was still thought of as Claudia Roden’s recipe. Let us hope that this will be the case for the Grandmother’s Spice Cake also.
Nice. I hope so!
Yes, I agree with you most definitely: not enough was changed to warrant the term “inspired.” Two bloggers recently made recipes from one of my cookbooks. Both gave me full credit for the recipe (a lemon crostata). One of the bloggers made the recipe pretty much as written and said so. The other took the tart pastry dough, added hazelnuts and chocolate and ended up with an entirely different (but delicious) dessert. In this case I think the term “inspired” would be perfectly legit. I was happy with (and grateful for) both their posts.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that I feel the burden is more on the blogger (rather than the commenters) to accurately represent what she is doing and to give proper credit. The commenters are merely responding to the blog post and so their comments are naturally directed toward the blogger, even if she isn’t the original creator of the recipe.
A great topic for discussion, Dianne!
p.s. meant my reply to be to my previous post above.
Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) says
Does ‘should’ matter? Commenters are free to say whatever they wish and give praise where they see fit.
The actually important questions are ‘What constitutes ‘inspired’ and ‘adapted’?’ and ‘Should bloggers publish recipes that aren’t original at all?’ The answers are up to the individual blogger unless the original recipe creator attempts to claim copyright protection.
Yes, that’s true. But it was strange for the author, because the commenters did not acknowledge her creativity in any way. They were writing to the blogger.
Re “inspired” and “adapted,” I’ve written a lot about this topic. See one of my most popular posts, Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours.
I often wonder about this myself. My blog is not a cooking blog, per say, although occasionally I might add one.
Some of the “cook the book” blogs out there now, only ask that you do not put the recipe on your blog, but do put pictures, and encourage the readers to get the book. I think this is fair.
This reminds me of the music problems in the beginning of “downloading music for free”. There is some truth to the fact that if someone copies a piece of music, the composer/artist is losing money, because no one is buying it. The same could be true for recipes and cook books, although there is many more recipes in a book, then music on a CD, and for me anyway, if I see more then one good recipe from a book, I am inclined to want the book.
One thing I find interesting. In your article about changing ingredients, I hope that was only a simple example, because lets face it..how many different ways and ingredients can you ADD to a chicken burrito, to make it different? Whereas, baking is chemistry. And unless you understand the chemistry, you won’t come up with a useable recipe on your own.
She changed the chicken burrito recipe a lot, and my friend could still tell that it was the same as the magazine’s. So there you have it.
Interesting analogy to downloading music. Seems logical.
What a great post Dianne! and now you r making me feel guilty for all those praises I get for some recipes “inspired by” someone else’s 🙂
Oh gosh, that is not my intent. I just think it’s an interesting dilemma, both for the blogger and the original author.
To be fair, the author of the book didn’t create the recipe either; her grandmother did. And though I don’t know the details, I’m sure the grandmother created the recipe by adapting others created by someone else. That’s the very nature of recipes. As for the blogger…I do think changing the icing is a pretty major change; I wouldn’t say that’s essentially the same dish. If i order something with cream cheese icing and it comes with buttercream instead, I’m not going to be happy…to me that is not the same cake. I don’t have the recipes to compare them, but I think the inspired or adapted seems accurate here based on the changes you mentioned (the icing being the most significant). And as she properly cited it, mentioned the book, and linked to it on Amazon, it seems like she did the author and her book a service on her clearly (based on the # of comments) blog. I get PR pitches daily from book publicists who would love for me to do something similar for one of the recipes in the books they’re pushing. And when I write my own, I would be happy to have that kind of positive post written about my book and one of its recipes.
Good reply. This is so true..really- Is there anything ..”NEW under the sun…” (to quote a quote).
Everything comes from something (or someone) right? I am sure even Dorie Greenspan, in Around My French Table, got some, or all of the recipes, or at least the ideas, from other people she has known? Many of MY recipes come from MY relatives..am I stealing? What if I change some ingredients to make it more like-able to the family’s tastes? Is it then MY recipe or still the recipe I got from my grandmother?
I think, of course, there is some responsibility in the blogger posting the recipe, to make sure it is noted that the recipe came from someone else…but lets face it..there ARE people out there who can NOT cook..even if they are following a recipe, so the blogger posting, even if they only made some changes, still might deserve praise.
Yeah, people make this argument a lot. It’s one thing to make a recipe and another thing to publish it. Once it’s published, it belongs to someone as part of a body of their work.
kristin @ foodfash says
Perhaps “inspired by” was a poor choice of words by the blogger. But if the blogger had worded the post differently, received praised for the post (narration, photos, technique), and driven traffic to the original author of the recipe – wouldn’t we consider this a win-win?
I think you are correct.
I am reminded of something that happened to my mother. She was a great cook and an excellent baker (she made 5 tier wedding cakes to die for).
She found a recipe for a rice pudding in the local newspaper. Every recipe up until then, she always saw, or used was baked, but this one was done on top of the stove. It was so creamy and good, and she used to make it to bring to pot lucks, and places she was invited to, for dessert.
One woman ..a friend…asked her for the recipe. She started bringing it EVERY WHERE. She made one or 2 changes…for instance using currents instead of raisins, …and changed the spice… very small changes…she NEVER once told anyone she got the recipe from my mother. She accepted all the praise for herself (it was that good a recipe) This woman was supposed to be a friend. My mother never said anything to her, but mentioned little things to me, every time we went someplace and it showed up. I know she was hurt…but, in her case, she let it go, because she knew it was not her recipe in the first place…
I think the issue is still the same — that it was strange for the author to see her recipe on a blog, with people praising the blogger.
But it’s interesting to consider what she should she have said instead. Adapted from? It’s not really adapted either. Adapted, to me, means you made it and then made it again with changes that improved it. I’ve made that cake, and it didn’t need any improvement.
Re the friend who adopted your mom’s recipe, that’s kind of sad. But you’re right, it wasn’t hers to begin with.
I don’t think bloggers are consciously trying to short-change the author of credit. I think “that’s just how food blogging works.” Specifically, I think many readers leave comments explicitly to support the blogger they’re reading. Comments like “beautiful cake!” or “looks delicious!” are meant to pat the blogger (cake maker) on the back. If a comment akin to “I made this cake and it was the lightest, most delicate cake I’ve ever had,” then maybe the reader ought to source the original recipe author and give them a pat on the back, too. Oh, and it would be super nice if the original recipe writer/author had contact information on the internet too, so they could receive such accolades. 🙂
I don’t think the blogger was trying to short-change the author either. Certainly it’s not up to the commenters to direct comments to the author, since the author isn’t the one who wrote the post.
What a nice idea to provide contact info to the author, in case a commenter wanted to thank her.
I should add that I don’t think there is anything wrong with praising a blogger for presenting a recipe, even if it’s not one that they created. She’s still doing a service by doing the legwork, taking the process photos, adding her suggestions, etc. That’s a lot of what food blogging is; it’s sharing your experience in the kitchen, the same way fashion bloggers put together outfits with clothing they didn’t design or wedding bloggers craft together inspiration boards using images from other people’s weddings. A lot of blogging is about inspiration and I think that’s definitely worthy of praise.
Well said! Bloggers an add a lot of value to a recipe.
Lindsay Jewell says
Totally agree with both of Alejandra’s comments.
I totally agree…
JOAN NOVA says
Another interesting conversation. I’m halfway through reading everyone’s comments and conjuring my own but I had to stop here because I think Alejandra said everything I was thinking in this and her prior comment.
Blogging is online communication and presentation. It seems to me this blogger communicated well where the recipe came from and how she changed it — and she obviously presented it well to muster up all the compliments.
It seems to me she is doing author a service by driving people to her work.
I agree with that notion, but I also think it’s more complicated.
My thoughts r a bit mixed on this. First, to be honest, I do get a bit annoyed sometimes at the whole commenting game. It’s slightly frustrating when I put in a ton of thought and time into a unique post/recipe and others seem to get lots of insincere appraisal for recipes that were ‘inspired’ from someone else or seem boring/ unoriginal.
On the other hand, I have truly been inspired by other foodies and sites and made recipes I never would have otherwise had I not come across them some of these bloggers are well known some are not. It makes me truly happy to re- make and re- post a fellow foodies recipes to acknowledge their creation, time and talent. I give credit were credit is due and make sure I always link back in an obvious way and also let the person know on their site that I’ve done so. In return, I would be deeply honored if others would do the same, let me know my recipes are actually being made and enjoyed.
That’s an interesting point. I don’t know if the blogger reached out to the author and made her aware of the post, letting her know that her recipe was being made and enjoyed. Or if the author found it herself.
I didn’t get the sense that the author was “deeply honored,” as you would be. Maybe nonplussed.
And, I don’t know if the appraisals are insincere. There’s a certain amount of fawning that occurs in commenting. I guess it just comes with the territory.
Here’s something. I mentioned I was going to read a certain book on my blog, and the publisher replied to me that there was an updated version… not sure if the author might have been told, but the publisher was certainly on top of things…
There IS fawning in comments, but also because many bloggers only allow “moderated” or ‘approved’ comments onto their rolls of praise. It bothers me to have anyone think that any blogger/author/etc. actually has 100% praise and approval with no dissent, especially when the blogger herself deletes anything but the glowing-est.
I mean to say that I am one for balance in commentary, and frequently find that my comments never see the light of day. I was VERY surprised to see that a link back to THIS article was included in the offending blogger’s public comments. Hmmm. People definitely know this is a topic of concern!
Well, that is something! Now I am curious about what the blogger said. But anyway, it is one thing to fawn, and another thing to disagree with something in a respectful way.
David Lebovitz’s article on recipe attribution at FoodBlog Alliance provides a neat summary of “inspired” versus “adapted” (http://foodblogalliance.com/2009/04/recipe-attribution.php). I recently wrote up a post on Examiner.com which included a recipe for a cake inspired by Laurie Colwin’s recipe for Nantucket cranberry pie (http://www.examiner.com/cooking-in-oakland/nantucket-cranberry-spice-cake). My recipe differed from the original in the following ways:
– I added: a number of additional spices, lemon zest, armagnac.
– I substituted: vanilla extract for almond extract, salted butter for unsalted butter, whole cranberries for chopped cranberries (which produced more of a tea cake than a sort of pudding).
Per the article, I erred on the side of caution by mentioning that my recipe was “inspired” by Colwin’s and including a link to Colwin’s book. I think the issue here is the spirit of the law, so to speak, rather than the law itself. When writing my recipe, I asked myself whether my version differed substantially enough from the original to constitute a different dish. I think it did. But to be sure, and to give credit where credit is due, I attributed my recipe accordingly.
On the other hand, I haven’t received a hundred comments on my version of the recipe :).
Thanks for the link. It’s always good to review that post, and I have referred to it a number of times myself. One thing David says about “inspired by:” He says to use it if you’ve changed the recipe substantially. Not the case here.
That’s good that you credited the original recipe. That’s by the book, same as this blogger did. You also added your own headnote, adding value to her recipe. Of course, the blogger did the same in her post.
I also changed the method (using wet-dry-wet) rather than just combining all the ingredients. So I’m confused. How do you feel my version is not a substantial change? And does this mean I should have written “adapted from” rather than “inspired by?”
No no, when I said “not the case here” I was referring to the blogger’s changes to the cake recipe.
Very good article.. I think to be on the safe side, it is best to note where it came from, but on the other hand, this where NEW recipes come from. Making changes to call it “your own”. Because let’s face it, is there really anything new out there now? It is the using of the same ingredients, in different ways. An ingredient that is new to us, might have been used for centuries someplace else…
Ere on the side of caution..yes. There is so much red tape, for everything, these days!
I don’t think it’s that odd since the blog is where the readers read about the cake. Blogs are more informal than print so I think it’s something more akin to getting complimented for a dish you made even if it wasn’t your original creation. I know you got the recipe for the orange olive oil cake from David Leite but it was still your cake at the reading, if that makes sense.
And yes, I think I would be a little irked if that were my recipe, especially a family heirloom (if I had any, that is). But if the blog did have some original content, like Nic mentioned, then it’s less objectionable than if they just copied the recipe verbatim which I’ve seen a lot of. At least she took the time to make it and did give the courtesy of linking to the book on Amazon.
Yes, I got compliments on the cake. But I linked to David’s recipe instead of reproducing it on my own blog with a few superficial changes. That is not the norm for a recipe blog.
The blog’s original content was the headnote, the step-by-step photos, and her tips. And yes, she did the right thing by linking to the book. If any sold the author will receive royalties.
I agree, Dianne. If you are using a recipe from a book, especially if it is a well known author, and you make some changes, link to the book, and then note your changes as YOUR changes.
Grant, you are correct. Blogs are informal..in most cases it is like getting a recipe” over the back fence”. But this is where it gets complicated..
Some of the blogs today, are informal everyday people, and some are well known chefs, bakers, baklery owners, etc. And it is sometimes hard to tell the difference, unless you know of the author.
It would be a problem (for me) if a family heirloom recipe is being used by someone else (and I am not a professional), and not noted where it came from (or who). In this same way, a professional/author might feel the same. It’s “”their” baby..so note it. Besides the fact they lose royalties if no one buys the book, because they don’t know where the recipe came from. How complimentary is it for an everyday person to use a professional’s recipe, and have success…if they note where and who it came from.
I think 92 comments is an indication of the blogger’s prowess. And she did a fine job with the post, other than not really changing the recipe.
You could also argue that she’s getting free publicity that might drive people to buy her book. But the post was only about the cake, and didn’t say much about the book, so basically people got a free recipe from it.
Sorry for being unclear, the familiarity/informal comment was about why the comments were directed towards the blogger and not the original recipe writer not an excuse for what she did.
How much of this blogger’s content is like this? Just enough mostly cosmetic changes to have some cover against theft? But at least she did credit and link to the original source which is more than a lot of other blogs I’ve seen do.
This is what many food bloggers do, and it’s an accepted practice. It’s not considered theft. If you want to hear something funny, another blogger stole her adapted recipe and posted it verbatim. What a world!
This is the Internet age and with it, the age of sharing. It’s good that credit was given to the original author and maybe the situation needs to be framed differently. This is a person trying their recipe, praising it, changing it a little, though it’s still essentially the same, and exposing it to however many people click to read that blog entry. So kudos to the original recipe author for writing such a kicking how-to.
Also, sometimes people want to know if a recipe is actually any good. Some bloggers who post the recipes of others provide that insight and experience with a recipe that we otherwise wouldn’t have. The post in question in an endorsement of the cookbook author’s work. Other than the question of permission, how is it different than a newspaper publishing a recipe written by someone else in a reporter’s food column, adapted or verbatim.
Again, this is the age of sharing information and that’s really all that’s happened here.
That’s true, that the people who come to the blogger’s post are looking for her experience with a recipe, and her encouragement to make it. It’s a good point.
I think that if a blogger reproduces a recipe with minor changes (like the ones you noted), the recipe should be followed by a blurb that states where it came from, what the blogger changed from the original, and how these changes suited the blogger. In this case, I feel like the word ‘adapted’ would be truthful. If, on the other hand, most of the major ingredients in a recipe are changed, and the blogger was actually, literally “inspired” by one recipe to create another, then the term ‘inspired’ would be suitable.
The question I have is whether or not the former should require permission from the publisher.
Yes, a truly “inspired” recipe would take off from the original and be something new. I don’t think she got there.
Re permission from the publisher, as long as you change it and say “inspired by” or “adapted from” you do not have to get permission.
And, when a publicist sends a review copy of a cookbook to an editor, is the editor required to get permission before using a recipe in the published review (usually adapted only to the publication’s house style)? Isn’t a blog pretty much the same thing? Can publishers make it easier for bloggers to get permission to reproduce recipes (obviously, fully credited)?
Michael @ Herbivoracious says
Sarah – I particularly like your point about mentioning what was changed. I don’t know whether that was done in this case, but it is something I generally do. In this chocolate-espresso brownie recipe, e.g., I call out the full heritage of the recipe (William Morrow -> Ina Garten -> Me), and what changes I made. Note that Ina Garten did the same thing in her headnote, explaining what she changed from William Morrow. I think this is a good practice both ethically, and informationally. A reader who is interested could look up the earlier versions and compare or adapt as they saw fit.
I like it, Michael. Seems like a good practice.
to be fair, the blogger did link to the author on Amazon, but what does “inspired” mean? where do we draw the line, what are the parameters? Amanda Hesser has a wonderful example on her website Food52 (http://www.food52.com/contests/about_contests). changing the icing…hmmm…does that fall in the “inspired” category? it’s a rather tricky one, isn’t it? i think the onus is on the blogger and not the readers, to be honest. x shayma
Thanks Shayma. I hadn’t seen that example. It’s a good one because you can see how much effort went into changing the recipe. Changing the icing is good, but not if it’s the only thing that’s changed.
As a food blogger who simply wants to cook, story-tell, inspire and learn along the way, I find this behavior outrageous. Inspiration to me is taking a stroll through a market and assembling together a bunch of things for dinner that night or taking one ingredient and throwing the kitchen sink at it to see the final result.
I find it amazing that someone would have the gall to change out a spice and a tablespoon and then claim the original recipe was simply an “inspiration”. If anything, it’s wonderful to pass the credit along. It’s unfortunate this person and others don’t cherish the stories behind these passed-down family recipes.
I absolutely agree with this statement..
That is what “inspiration” is…you might think back to a recipe you saw at one time, using a certain ingredient, and find “inspiration” in wondering what you can do with it (without using a recipe). That is inspiration, that is “art”.
Definitely heirloom recipes come with stories….and when not noted, something gets lost…this is where we lose our history.
This is how our industry works. We say “inspired” or “adapted” and change 3 small things and that’s supposed to be enough. It’s good to see someone worked up about this, Ethan.
Sadly, yes. This is often how food blogging works. This does not sound like much of an adaptation to me, and I would be upset if I was the author of the recipe.
If there are 100 comments, then it has to be a pretty popular blog, so I wonder why the blog author was so lazy…? But it’s not the recipe that’s being praised. It’s her presentation of the recipe. And that is what a lot of blogging is: presentation. So you can’t blame those who comment for that: they like the presentation and want to say so (or maybe they just feel the need to kiss a** because they idolize the blogger…who knows). Anyway, the larger issue to me is this: it is one thing to adapt a recipe from an online source, link to it, yada yada. But when adapting from a book (and so closely as she did here), is that ok to do without permission from the publisher? I guess in this case, she believes she adapted it “enough”. It just doesn’t sound like it to the rest of us.
I like this idea, Winnie, that blogging is about presentation, and people comment on that. So how okay is it to present someone else’s work as your own? That is the question.
As long as you adapt, you don’t need permission.
Sydney Drinkwater says
This is quite an interesting subject I haven’t thought about enough. I’m new to this world, have only been following your particular blog for a few weeks and am now intrigued on this subject. My previous opinion was black & white: “adapted” meant changed something while also still naming the original owner/writer. Now my view is expanding. I see what you mean on not changing enough, but I also would appreciate, as a writer, the new photos and angles taken on my recipe – probably coming with at least one link to my cookbook or site. Links are good.
What would you do, Dianne, if you had saved a recipe many months/years ago and couldn’t remember where you obtained it? Would you never post on it? I’m curious how to handle this as now I am only realizing how I need to save recipes I receive/find.
I have many a recipe in boxes for many years ago.
Most (not all) general recipes I eventually let go of. Because our food likes and dislikes change, or what was once thought good for us now is not, (maybe never was but who knew?).
But I rarely if ever throw out a baking recipe I have found, because for whatever reason, my tastes in that area (good for you or not) never seem to change.
But if I was going to note a recipe from one of my boxes, and had no idea where it came from (I now date and label EVERYTHING I find) I would note that…if it is a clipping, it obviously came from a newspaper, or magazine, so I would note that’s where it came from, and make apologies that I do not, or could not remember what newspaper or mag, or who it came from. What else can you do? If it’s a great recipe you want to share do you never use it again? Or share it?
Janie explains it well. It is your obligation to try to source the recipe, and also to modify it so you don’t copy it exactly. See the food 52 link above for an example.
I don’t think it’s at all odd that commenters praise bloggers for the food they make. Making real food is inspiring in an age where many many people don’t have the skill, desire, or means to make food from scratch anymore. My grandmother uses someone else’s recipe for red cake every new years day, but I still tell her what an awesome job she did. And consequently, I have a favorite meatball recipe I found and with all the work that goes into it I like to hear a little praise and encouragement.
I think that’s exactly how food blogging works. I’ve said it before, but it depends on what kind of a blog you run, so I don’t want to generalize. However the vast majority of food blogs I’ve come across emphasize making, photographing, and eating food, and sharing that experience with readers. It’s about community, and not intellectual property, for most folks who are writing for free.
From the original author’s perspective I don’t see how it’s disconcerting to get free advertising. I agree with Alejandra’s comment very much.
As for calling it “inspired by” … even if it the exact recipe was repeated the baking of it WAS technically inspired by the recipe in the book.
My point too, Zachariah…
I think there are more young people cooking, or at least trying to cook because of these blogs. Either they are “inspired” to try cooking, or in “awe” of the ones who can cook..because like I said…there is a lot of people out there who not only can’t cook, and they can’t follow recipes either…(and sometimes it is not for lack of trying)
So why shouldn’t a blogger be praised for what they can do..especially if they make it “look” easy for ones who never tried doing it before… Who doesn’t like to bring a dish to someone’s house, or have someone over for dinner, and receive praise for it…? Blogs are a wider audience…(the internet has definitely changed things) and if they can “inspire” someone else to try their hand at making good food, I think that’s pretty good and deserving of praise…
I agree. Though it is a sticky issue, I think many non-professional food bloggers like myself (I wrote a biography of M.F.K. Fisher, and keep a food based blog going as an attempt to engage with the food world, etc) are writing and photographing as a means of genuine info sharing. “Hey, this is the chocolate cake that made everyone at the b-day party swoon.” “This meal is quick and delicious in under 30 minutes.” It’s like getting together with friends for a potluck and then sharing the recipe with a few tweaks — omit the hot sauce, etc. It’s a compliment, right? And I guess the crucial thing for me, as a person who does not claim to develop recipes, is to give credit where credit is due. Cooking and sharing food is fun. I think the web helps keep it that way, though inevitably, this sharing is hard to monitor.
Community and sharing is a great part of blogging. No argument there.
It’s one thing to pass a recipe around to friends and family, and to cook for people. It’s another thing to publish someone else’s recipe on your blog. You have to be respectful of the work that went into creating it, because it’s someone’s livelihood.
If you don’t want to deal with intellectual property issues, you can always create your own recipes.
Victoria Allman says
Good question Diane
I struggle with this myself. When I wrote my first book, which was about traveling and learning recipes in markets and from locals, I made sure the recipe titles were Irma’s Calallo Soup and MaryBeth’s Ratatouille.
I hope this is enough, because really, when it comes right down to it, very few recipes are created from scratch anymore. Each printed recipe was learned from somewhere.
It is difficult to come up with an original recipe, Victoria. That is true. It would be good if you described who these people were in your headnote and how they came up with their dishes.
David Leite says
For me the real issue is the vague notions of attribution. What ticks me off is the casual and off-handed use of the terms “adapted from” and “inspired by.” To me, “adapted from” is when a cook/blogger makes a recipe of mine and changes it to suit her style and taste. It comes to life in a different way in her pan and in her writing. While essentially the same recipe, it’s got her imprint on it–and I’m fine with that, as long as she correctly attributes it as adapted from my work.
“Inspired by” is a totally different thing to me and requires much more of the cook/writer. For example, I might look at a menu and see an item and think, “What a great idea, I have to play with this.” Then I head home and go about creating my own version of that dish. I’m not studiously looking at the restaurant’s cookbook, if it has one, or calling the chef for the recipe. I’m using the idea or notion of the dish–that brief encounter while looking at a menu–and making my own version. THAT to me is inspired by. I would still say, as I did numerous times in my book, that the recipe was inspired by one I saw at such-and-such a restaurant.
I guess I’m on the bandwagon because today I read an article that included a recipe, saying it was adapted from a recipe in my book. It wasn’t adapted from or even inspired by. It was lifted almost verbatim. The only difference was instead of using half water and half stock, the writer suggested using all stock, which I also mentioned in my book. The good thing is I wrote the writer, and we had a frank and honest telephone conversation about how things are changing so much in these days of blogs and the Internet. Twenty years ago it was easier for publishers to control what was released from a book because the power to publish was in the hands of a selected few. Now the power is in the hands of many, and with that comes the need to rethink how we’re treating or cheating our colleagues, how best to interact and create a network of respect and integrity while at the same time writing kickass content.
Not an easy job, kids, to say the least.
David, I agree..
THAT is “inspired”…much the same way an artist looks at another painting, or a scene, and is “inspired” to play with the idea, and make their own interpretation.
If it is a copy..it is a copy, and should be noted…I always say where a recipe came from, when I do post one, (even if it was a neighbor, but especially if it was from a book) and if I made changes I note them…(note them as my changes) That is “adapted from”…Changing one or 2 things, like the kind of spice used, is not, to me, an adaption, or even inspired! In your case..I think that’s theft…
Lifting a recipe from a book and calling it your own when it is obviously the same as from the book, is theft (in my book)
You are correct…the internet is changing soo many things. And you handled your situation extremely well…
Hopefully, in this coming year and years to come, everyone will be trying to make them selves better people, to themselves and each other…
Nope, it’s not! And that’s what’s great about this discussion.
How wonderful that you got to talk with the writer about the recipe. I don’t blame you for being ticked off. I would have been too.
Your definitions of “adapted” and “inspired by” are very similar to my own. It’s a lot more work than many people are willing to do.
David and Diane, your definitions of “adapted from” and “inspired by” are somehow much more concrete in my mind. I guess what’s still confusing me is how one defines a “substantial” change from the original recipe. It’s sort of fuzzy, I imagine, not an exact science, but are there any other criteria by which one might define a “substantial change?” Suppose one alters the header, rewrites the method, and makes three changes to the ingredients. Yet still, the recipe might not differ substantially, as happened with the recipe described in this blog post. Are there other, perhaps more abstract rules that can determine more or less whether a recipe is substantially different from the one on which it is based?
You have to have a vision for altering the recipe, where the goal is to make it your own, instead of making some minor changes so you can post it. It’s a different philosophy.
Hey, I want to know where Grandma got that original recipe! “Invented” for her mother’s wedding cake?” Yeah, right. If she changed more than three ingredients from whosoever recipe she was “inspired” by, I’ll eat my hat! (as long as it’s made out of spice cake… anyone know a good recipe?) 😉
My mother used to make the best spice cake. I have no idea where she got the recipe from..it was just plain and simple spice cake with boiled icing on it..sometimes she put nuts in it, sometimes on top of the icing.
I have not found a recipe with that combination of spices yet. It could have been as simple as a recipe off the back of the cake flour box, but if it was they are not printing it any more.
I also had a recipe for glossy chocolate frosting that was like pudding and was cooked. I can not find that one anywhere either…
I don’t think she used cookbooks for inspiration, but you never know. More likely she was inspired by the spices in something she tasted elsewhere and created her own version.
First please accept my comment to this particular post and others I’ve read here as well with the humility in which it is intended. I’m a non-journalist blogger who views blogging, apparently, much differently than those from the world of journalism. I view myself (and all bloggers, really) as simply content creators. The ongoing discussion over how it is best done or should be done makes me smile. It sounds like a conversation about which is the true artist… Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol or Mary Cassatt. If I throw a bunch of scribbles up (which I often do) and you create worthy literary masterpieces, readers vote with their clicks. Easy. If I think I’ll ever make a nickel with my scribbles when you can barely come up with a quarter through your masterpieces, I’m deluded.
The question of who owns a recipe was discussed heatedly by my mother and her coffee klatch back in the ’60’s regarding their personal recipe sharing practices. It infuriated some when one wouldn’t share a recipe. Others felt it was well within bounds to hold a recipe as their own secret property. From my perspective, this is the same frustrated, and frustrating, argument all over again.
By the way, my kitchen bookshelf is full of cookbooks that I wouldn’t have known about be it not for some little geeky blogger with bad spelling and crap for photos telling me in all her sincerity how much she loved a recipe for meatloaf or chowder or spice cake they contain.
Yes Yes Yes!!
You are right..there is a world of difference between the everyday person blogging, and the professional journalist. But maybe since everyday bloggers are now entering the “world of public posting”..they should know some of the rules..isn’t it etiquette? (or is it law??) or is it simply knowing when you are stepping on someone’s toes?
I am an “everyday blogger”, like you, Pam….and I too have known and heard that argument about the ones who pass on recipes and the ones who don’t or won’t. In that case, I think it is the ones receiving the recipe who are responsible for noting where it came from (it happened to my mother)..and the ones who DON’T note where it came from are the ones generally responsible for the reason some DON’T pass on family recipes..
Like then, the same is for today..a few can ruin it for the many.
I Love your blog by the way…
There are similarities, yes, but once you publish a recipe, the game is changed. You are perceived as the originator of it.
Lau@Corridor Kitchen says
I agree that ‘inspired by’ is a stretch in this case. ‘Inspired by’ to me says you saw someone cook an omelette so you created a totally new omelette. Or you watched a cooking show where they used kale and walnuts in a soup so you made a kale and walnut spaghetti. Even ‘adapted from’ is a stretch here, especially considering that pumpkin pie spice is, I’m pretty sure, made of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg… It would probably just have been better to say ‘I got this recipe from ‘blah’ and made a couple of changes’.
I also think it’s interesting, as another commenter pointed out, that it was her grandmother’s recipe and became ‘hers’ when it was put into print. Presumably her grandmother was happy to ‘give’ her the recipe so it was in the spirit of what copyright is about.
What about cookbooks on national cuisines, eg when someone travels around a country ‘collecting’ traditional recipes and then publishes them, without giving credit to their creator/s?
Her grandmother has passed on. The author was the first to put the recipe into print, so she is considered the originator.
Depends how they collect them. If they say how they watched a cook make something, that gives credit to the originator. Typically the originator is not going to publish the recipe.
There’s some tension I’m sensing here, in the comment section. 🙂
I think that part of being a good blogger is educating yourself, and there’s a learning curve about these things. When you have to fight and scratch to make yourself better, then maybe it’s more likely you’ll come across this information and make a conscious effort to give credit where credit’s due. I didn’t give it much of a thought until I read your book, and mostly because I see that most people do just make other people’s recipes. People reading blogs for enjoyment probably won’t know the difference. Developing your own recipes is difficult and often not nearly as tasty as those from a cookbook (for obvious reasons).
I think one step we’re missing here is that the blogger probably would have been praised for her pictures and tips on the recipe even without publishing the actual recipe. Although some people will make a recipe found on a blog, most people are reading it for entertainment and not necessarily for information. If they actually want to make it, they will look for the recipe beyond the blog post.
I, for one, am much more likely to make a recipe from a cookbook if I read about someone making it on the web. It’s like a 4 star review to me. Recipes tied to experience have much more weight than your basic cookbook.
I also completely agree with David Leite about his definitions of inspired by and adapted from.
Related to this issue, I recently saw a post where the blogger collected all of the links to recipes found in a recently published cookbook. It was a very long list and many of us praised her for compiling it, and I will now buy the cookbook and then cross reference with the list for more information. But I bet some will think that there’s no point to buying the cookbook with the information free, and now made even more readily available.
I didn’t notice any tension..I thought it was a good discussion of what things mean to everyone…
I agree totally, that part of being a blogger is educating yourself.
I guess the only bloggers I hear from are the ones who want to educate themselves, so kudos to all of you!
You’re right that most people will enjoy the photos, read the captions and never make the recipe. And we haven’t talked about how hard it is to develop a good recipe, which is why it’s so much easier to fool around with someone else’s.
The Italian Dish says
The commenters left praise for her because they have no idea how little or how much she changed the recipe. And so many people zip through a blog post, without really reading it, just looking at the photos and leaving a comment. Great post, Dianne. Food for thought fro everyone.
Thanks. That is all true.
Humans have shared recipes since someone first charred a hunk of meat over an open fire…we tweak, change, revise, and pass along things we like–sometimes with attribution, sometimes without. Imagine how tedious oral culture would become if we had to credit every scrap of information we shared! The blogger did credit the original source, she linked to a commercial source for the book, and she attempted (though clumsily) to distinguish her (very) slight variation from the original. Rather than see the blogger’s act as attempted appropriation, I view her as providing a valuable service to the author by publicizing the book to a new audience.
I’m more interested in the author’s reaction: does she think that every reader who bakes the cake will be faithful to her heirloom recipe and credit her book every time the cake is served? (What boring dinner parties would result from this practice!) It is entirely possible that some caterer has seen the recipe, baked it to great success, and is now selling spice cakes and receiving great praise for an un-original recipe. Perhaps the caterer gives the original source, perhaps not. Does this trouble the author? People who share recipes (whether in print or online) must certainly understand that the material will be reproduced, altered, shared, and circulated.
The author in question better not go into the music business, as her head might explode if she went to a club and heard her hit single get remixed with some 70s funk…or if it got sampled by a high school kid making mash-ups posted on YouTube! Don’t’cha just love how cultural products change with human interaction?
I can’t speak for the author, but certainly I don’t mind if people make my recipes and don’t credit me, or if they change them. But those people are cooking, not publishing.
Agreed! These are recipes, for gawd’s sake, not items of national security. Not that I don’t believe in intellectual property… but it’s food! Most of us who are that into food will find a way to recreate a dish with or without a recipe. If I thought that a particular spice cake was like none other I’ve ever had, it may take me two or three iterations, but I usually can get dang close if not spot on in terms of flavor, texture, etc. In that process, I may even come up with some technique or variant that is uncommon or unheard of, and I might post about that.
That little word “publish” sure does mean different things to different bloggers. If you are in the employ of a media outlet you are bound by media policy, procedure and ethics (and ato live by specific definitions of the words “inspired by and “adapted from”.) If you are a journalist who blogs for the heck of it without being employed to do so, I’d assume you’d most likely follow that same tack as force of habit/training and to maintain your professional integrity and reputation. If you’re a regular joe, that little publish button just means your backlit words and images get shot out into the world wide web with hopes of finding an audience.
Journalists who blog may find a way to self-regulate their slice of the blogging “industry”, but good luck with the masses.
I don’t accept comments on recipes for this very reason. Chances are good any recipe, even one I develop myself, will have been invented elsewhere. I don’t want accolades for devising a recipe that I got somewhere else. I accept comments on blog posts, though, because I am more than happy to accept accolades for technique, science, and writing.
Copyright law surrounding recipes offers them less protection than other kinds of intellectual property, and while the wisdom of this can be debated it’s simply the reality of the world in which we live. However, there are ethical questions to accepting accolades or even receiving payment for work not produced by you, regardless of the legal questions.
Exactly. It’s worth trying to figure this out.
Candace Davis says
I think that she was stretching the truth a bit by saying it was “inspired by…” It sounds to me like it was “adapted from”, but the important part is that she did give attribution.
If I understand the protocol correctly, she can call the recipe her own as long as she changes at least three ingredients and then writes the directions in her own words. At that point, she doesn’t even need to give attribution, correct?
Some people think that’s enough. But you can see that it’s still basically the same cake. I don’t go by that rule.
As a cook book author I think that any promotion is good promotion. The fact that the blogger found her recipe and thought it remarkable enough to bake, adapt (though too little) and blog about with attributiion is all well and good. The problem is that the blogger didin’t change the recipe enough to call it an adaptation. In any adaptation (loosely determined as 3 ingredient changes) the method section of the recipe should be in the bloggers verbage, not the word for word of the origninal author. An ingredient list cannot be copywritten, but the method or directions in the recipe is the source of intellectual property. I agree with David about what determines “inspired by”. There are as many opinions about how to go about the attribution process as there are authors. Ultimately though, can’t we all just get along? There is going to be a steep learning curve here. We can figure it out together. We writers/journalists are more familiar with the rules than most bloggers. Thanks, Diane, for the conversation. Let’s hope that most bloggers (and some cook book authors) give this topic the thought that it deserves.
Thanks Carla. I’m not a big fan of the 3-ingredient change rule, even though editors have mentioned it to me as good enough.
We are all trying to get along. We just have to work out what is appropriate in this new territory.
To answer the question in your post title, I think I would say why not? Since the writer you mention hadn’t developed the said recipe herself, and we don’t know who or what inspired her grandmother to come up with the recipe, I’m not sure who deserves the accolades for the cake recipe.
I think the real issue is between “being inspired by” and “adapting from”.
I am trying to be unbiased here, as I am very clear about what “adapting” means to me. Since the said blogger seems to have credited her source she is obviously not trying to pass off the cake as her own invention, but as someone else’s recipe which she adjusted to suit her taste. I don’t see anything wrong in that.
And she has no control over the commenters who either appreciate what she has done with the said recipe, or else are just leaving comments for the sake of doing so.
I am a food blogger who has adapted and posted some others’ recipes on my blog. I always credit my sources, whether a cookbook or a site. If my post features a fellow blogger’s recipe adaptation, I always let them know I have posted it.
I haven’t written a book, but I have had others use my recipes and get all the comments, but unfortunately that is how things seem to work.
Of course, many of them write back to tell me they have used my recipe.
I think what really matters is whether the concerned recipe has been copied, been inspired by or adapted from the original. Assuming that it has been adapted and the source credited, I think the blogger deserves some credit because many times he/ she de-mystifies cookbook recipes and cooking/ baking procedures with tutorials. Many food bloggers put up excellent photographs of what they cooked which is their effort, adaptation and all.
And at the end of the day, the commenters are leaving comments about what they have read and seen on that blog and not the cookbook from which the original recipe came.
I think cookbook writers have to accept that their recipes will be tweaked and changed until it suits the palate/ lifestyle of the persons who use it. Many cookbook authors become familiar names outside their native countries because food bloggers cook from their books and mention them.
I see many well recognised cookbook authors who have blogs/ sites where they post recipes from other’s cookbooks or food magazines. They adapt these recipes (with credits naturally) and post them on their sites and have 50 to 100 comments on these posts. Is this different from what this food blogger did?
I don’t think cookbook authors and recipe writers have a problem with people tweaking their recipes, as long as they are truly changed, as opposed to superficial changes. Perhaps the superficial changes are necessary to avoid getting permission from the publisher.
Sarah R says
When I inherited my grandmothers’ cookbooks after their deaths, I was a little surprised to see that many of ‘their’ recipes were adaptations of others’ recipes, namely published in The Joy Of Cooking. Carefully written notes in pencil lined the borders of their books, naming additions/substitutions to many recipes. I, too, still defer to Joy. It contains the chocolate chip recipe I’ve grown very fond of because my grandmothers made it. The basic ratio of flour, sugar, eggs & butter stated in Joy makes a good cookie, but my grandmothers added different kinds of chocolate, nuts and sometimes dried fruits to enhance the recipe… so who does it belong to? And would there be an issue if I shared the recipe publicly?
Let’s say your grand mother substantially changed the recipe. You could publish it and discuss these pencil markings in the cookbook as a way to both honor her and give attribution to the original source. Then you would be safe.
Great conversation here on a very interesting point. I also have mixed feelings, but mostly feel that the blogger used the wrong word “inspired by”. I agree with David and other commentators above with what ideas constitute “inspired”. For me, as someone who writes Indian recipes, I might get inspired by a single ingredient at a farmers market. But perhaps it’s easier for me since I am not constantly exposed to numerous Indian recipes. Does that make sense?
Indian recipes are also done over and over, just like vinaigrettes and icings or frostings. I mean, someone created chicken tikka masala (probably in Britain), and it’s just been adapted numerous times. But I can see how giving credit to and finding the origins of something that has become such a basic Indian dish would be difficult to do every time.
I also don’t consider that the cookbook author’s recipe was stolen from her grandmother. I practically apprenticed under my mother-in-law, learning her Indian cooking (it was very different from the Indian cooking I grew up with) by watching her. Then transcribing each dish onto paper? Whoa! Much more work than I ever imagined. I actually just blogged about this the other day. I appreciate cookbook authors and recipe developers now more than ever. Forgive my naivety here, though, as I am not a cookbook author and as Carla says above, perhaps as an author I would appreciate the press from a blog.
I do like the solution of perhaps bloggers documenting how they made a dish with photos and descriptions and if it worked well for them. But leaving the actual recipe out would promote cookbook sales as in the cooking group for French Fridays with Dorie. Some of those bloggers in that group briefly describe the recipe in their post without giving too much detailed instruction which hopefully would entice the reader to purchase the book.
The story that you write about on this post Dianne, is why thus far I have been hesitant to put out my recipes on my blog, but people are looking to blogs for recipes so I’m going to have to put out a few (all my hard work!). There was an earlier post you put out that talked about this as well and that helped me decide.
oops i’m sorry my reply turned out much longer than i thought….
I don’t think bloggers would be content to leave out recipes, Shef. A big part of their traffic comes from people searching for recipes online. Plus, many bloggers photograph the steps and give people tips about how to get the best from a recipe.
But yes, it is a tremendous amount of work to transcribe a recipe successfully, and to create one that works for every level of cook. Bloggers need to honor that process when they use someone else’s recipe, particularly someone who makes a living writing them.
I’ll reiterate a former comment… I’ve seen and tried a few Dorie Greenspan French Table recipes in blogs and, au contraire, recently acquired my own copy of the book. They (bloggers who “lifted” her recipes) sold me her book. My cookbook shelves are overflowing with books that I’ve found or have been nudged along to buy from bloggers who posted great recipes straight up or their adaptations from a book. Being able to “test” the book to determine its quality before purchasing is good. Carla is correct on this… Any promotion is good promotion. Living proof right here!
I agree, Pam. The bloggers who reproduce a recipe or two from a new book often tip the scales toward my purchasing said book. I’d wager that folks satisfied by a secondhand recipe found online aren’t really a hardcore bookbuying audience. I’m thinking of Reinhart’s “Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” a bestselling baking book loved by so many home bakers. Most, if not all, of the recipes/bakers’ formulae from the book are available in various forms online, yet the book is still the most-used volume on my bookshelves. So many online references are a powerful endorsement of its quality.
Definitely online references can push book sales. There’s a difference between an online reference and plagiarism, though.
Interesting. I believe the author should have used the terminology ‘adapted’ or ‘slightly adapted’ instead of inspired by, and also change the wording of the method. Other than that, she gave the author credit, and linked to her book so readers could purchase.
The cookbook author was inspired by her grandmother, and had the good eye and good taste to use this recipe in her cookbook. The blogger had the good eye and good taste to feature it on her blog.
One service bloggers perform is to sift through the myriads of recipes that are out there, and highlight those that are wonderful. If I want to make a really good birthday cake, I turn to my favorite bloggers for recommendations instead of just randomly searching recipe sites, because they’ve essentially tested the recipe for me.
I like to think the commenters were really praising the recipe, not so much the blogger. And perhaps a few of the readers purchased the cookbook as a result (I’ve done that before, based on a recipe featured by a blogger.)
Janie had a good point: In Dorie’s “Around My French Table” (as in many cookbooks), there are many recipes from Dorie’s friends and fellow chefs, but Dorie still receives accolades for her book, and for her good taste for featuring those recipes.
Dorie might have been the first one to publish the recipes of her friends. And she credited each one in her headnotes. I’m sure they all had to give her permission. So yes, she gets the big bucks, but she makes her living getting recipes out into the world, mostly in print.
Dear Donna –
After reading all these feisty comments I thought you had gone and changed your name again!
Or at least used one “inspired” by some other author, or “adapted” for use herein…
Setting aside the difference between “adapted from” and “inspired by”, I think the blogger in question absolutely did the right thing – she credited the original source, and enhanced the recipe by adding step-by-step photos and an enticing “money shot” of the finished product.
I think the bigger issue here is the intent of the commenters… if they’re praising the cake itself, saying it looks awesome and yummy and delicious, I think that’s quite different from praising the blogger herself. I’m obviously just guessing since I haven’t seen the comments in question, but to me, there’s a world of difference between “your cake” and “that cake”.
It’s sort of like musicians who perform in cover bands – if I was to walk up to a singer after a show and praise them on a particular catchy tune in their set, is this interpreted as praise for the singer or as praise for the original songwriter? Theoretically, the musician is only entitled to praise regarding their voice or skillful playing, but is it their responsibility to police me on what compliments I can and cannot give them? Should they direct me to write a letter to the original composer instead, since that’s the person who really deserves to hear how wonderful the song was?
I think it boils down to people taking the path of least resistance, which in this case is commenting on the blog where they found the recipe for the awesome-delicious-fantastic cake, rather than hunting down an email address or website for the original author (who, in theory, should be passing on all the praise to her grandmother anyways… seeing as it was her recipe and all)/
I’m not trying to police the commenters. All bloggers are thrilled to have them. I’m trying to point out a trend happening in our publishing world that we’re all trying to understand. I don’t think the commenters are interested in contacting the author, either. Their allegiance is to the blogger.
I’m curious if the author left a comment? Did she join in the conversation about her recipe? Since this is the trend now (recipes being posted on blogs other than the author’s own) wouldn’t it be a good idea for the author to join in the conversation, take credit for her recipe, offer to answer any question? What an awesome opportunity to connect with the people cooking your recipes.
Nope. And she read the comments about this post and did not comment either.
I knew immediately the blogger and recipe in question. She does this all the time. Whether she’s changed the method or not, it’s unfair to cookbook authors to reprint their recipes almost verbatim. It’s kind to link to the cookbook (maybe readers will buy it, share the love!) but giving the recipe is going too far, unless it’s been *substantially* modified.
As for the comment fawning, some context helps. Said blogger started out as a “healthy living blogger” – the ones who obsessively photograph everything they eat, document calories and so on (if you go to very early posts, you’ll see this – the calorie counting eventually stopped). This summer, she decided she decided it would be a food blog and started posting photographed recipes a la Pioneer Woman (as you say). The fawners are leftover from her food diary days. They idolize her.
I don’t want this to come off as bitter. Just leaves a bad taste with repeat offenders.
This is not about that particular blogger, Joe, and I appreciate your not identifying her. Many bloggers use the techniques of “adapted from” and “inspired by,” as do newspapers and magazines. Some do a better job than others of actually changing the recipe.
Wow! Then the similarities are truly uncanny – same recipe, money shot, “photo-with-instructions” posting style, substituted icing, vanilla *and* pie spice modifications, types of comments received, PAM tip – I wouldn’t draw the inference lightly. But I trust your word.
This just further demonstrates how prevalent this problem is; perhaps one blogger copied the modified recipe and style from another, unattributed? I can’t see such startling similarities being happenstance.
And of course – no need to name names that lead to flaming comments at the source, especially when my attribution wasn’t 100% certain.
Please don’t. There is no reason to flame the blogger.
Besides, you know what I left out of this post? The author sent me a second link, to a blogger who copied the first blogger’s “inspired by” recipe verbatim. LOL!
Like Joe, I think I recognize this blog post, and what bothers me almost as much as the use of “inspired by” (it absolutely should have been labeled “slightly adapted from”) is that the blogger used the original recipe’s name as the title of her post. In this case, it’s an unusual name, one the blogger admitted had intrigued her, and to use it as her post’s title without including the author’s name (as in “Paula Deen’s Tallahassee Taters”), strikes me as inappropriate and opportunistic. She’s appropriating not only the recipe but the allure of its name.
SusanV – whoa – I had no idea the title was lifted, too! I thought that, at least, was a sweet and clever alteration on the part of the blogger. Bummer. The name is totally alluring – and actually why I remember the post in question. That’s blatantly crossing the line.
I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with naming the recipe from the book. She identified the book twice. She changed the name of the recipe for her own blog post, which was the right thing to do.
Oops! Maybe we are looking at two different posts. The one I was referring to did use the recipe’s title as the title of her own blog post. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that and I’m just overly sensitive.
Absolutely not. After more consideration, I think you are right to point that out. She should have chosen her own title for the blog post. The reason you two remember it is because it was distinctive.
This topic leaves my mind reeling, as it is really several issues rolled into one.
I agree with David on the use of “adapted” and “inspired”. I’m inspired by a dish if I try it somewhere and recreate my own version without referencing a specific recipe, or if I read a recipe and am intrigued by the use of a certain combination of ingredients or technique, and apply that inspiration to a new recipe. I think most bloggers are adapting, and may be unwittingly using the wrong terminology.
I think bloggers deserve praise for their presentation. If not for their presentation and ability to select interesting recipes, they wouldn’t have a readership. However, I do think they need to be totally upfront about where the recipe originated, and specifically what changes they made and why. What irks me is that readers start attributing the recipe to the blogger, not the original author. Even though it’s not my recipe, it wounds my soul a little when a very talented individual’s work gets usurped by someone who is, essentially, a professional borrower. In your example, it seems the blogger made an error in terminology. I’m not sure that error is as meaningful to the reader as to original recipe developers, and has little impact on the type of praise she receives in her comments. I’m not saying it’s excusable, just that it probably doesn’t change the comments.
As far as the deliciousness of the recipe, I think the praise falls with the original author, but there is no obvious vehicle for that praise if there isn’t a direct link to the author’s original work. However, the adaptation may actually compromise the integrity of the original recipe, which will not please the original author. This is where it all starts to get a little murky for me. Were the changes made as an improvement, or simply for the ability to call the recipe adapted? Is the posting a benefit or detriment to the original author? Is it free publicity or outright thievery? It all starts to get a bit circular….
I think the changes were made to avoid getting permission from the publisher, and to make it kosher to put it on her own blog. Those are two logical reasons and they’re used all the time by print media as well.
Yep, this is what we’re discussing. I can’t see that it’s outright thievery, since she identified the name of the recipe and the book, twice.
Ok, I’m a little confused. If the blogger’s version was indeed “published pretty much verbatim” as you say, then doesn’t the original author have rights? Attribution is not a cover-all for permission… wouldn’t publishing the method near verbatim be a copyright violation?
There is no copyright for recipes. So no, the author has no rights. If it was absolutely verbatim, she would have needed permission from the publisher, but it was not.
Funny that on her website she says she works very hard to make the site 100% her own!
Let’s not trash the blogger. I left her name and blog out of this deliberately.
This post is not about her. It’s about food blogging in general and practices that many bloggers do and need to examine.
Great post! I’m food blogging and studying copyright law, and I wind up think a lot about originality and recipes. It seems that food is an inherently derivative creation, given that most of us are working with a finite universe techniques and ingredients. Recipe copyright is thin at best, and there has always been a culture of tweaking, adaptation, and even cooption. Explicit attribution, as many have pointed out, goes to ameliorate some sense of “stealing.” It seems that the real issue in food writing, as in many other areas which are changing because of internet interaction modes, is a shift in culture and speed in recipe exchange. It’s very cool that you’re getting people to think seriously about this shift!
Thanks Celia. Definitely attribution ameliorates a sense of “stealing,” but so does saying “adapted from” and “inspired by.” And stealing may be too strong a word, if writers truly try to recreate the recipe to their own taste.
Nancy Baggett says
This issue has confounded me forever; I think you & I have discussed it before. As one who has always developed my own recipes (for cookbooks and articles) , I just assumed I’d create my own recipes for my blog. But it’s very hard to match the output of other bloggers who are not actually creating (make that endlessly testing) their own recipes, but are just borrowing the work of others. Aside from the time required, there’s money for ingredients involved–and, as your post notes, readers don’t seem to even notice/or care that the blogger posting didn’t actually come up with the recipe. Very puzzling indeed.
Since I realized this fact, I’ve begun occasionally featuring recipes of others (giving plenty of credit to them, of course)–it is just SO much faster, easier, cheaper to fiddle with an existing dish slightly, then shoot it and post about it. It cuts turn around time enormously. So now, I’m posting and getting praised for other people’s recipes, too. I’m not thrilled with the situation, but I got really worn out doing the extra work and spending the extra money with no reward.
I find that commentors always praise the blog itself no matter how much effort is paid to correct attribution. Two examples:
1. One of the more popular posts on my blog has been an oreo cupcake with a built-in cup for milk. I clearly state that the concept of the built-in cup was not my own and tell everyone whose idea it was. Yet, not a single commenter praised the person who came up with the idea.
2. I write for Paula Deen and there is a very clear byline and bio, but the majority of the comments are addressed to Paula as though she wrote the recipe. It cracks me up every time.
I think that as long as proper attribution is paid, the blogger can’t be held responsible for people not reading well.
That’s true, Stef. People read your blog to see what you are doing.
Re No. 1, if you chose to write about the person who came up with the idea, that might be different. Re No. 2, I looked at the comments. Hilarious! People do not pay attention, that’s for sure.
I would be curious to know if the blogger copied the instructions verbatim? If she added any new techniques/method then I think in addition to the ingredient changes she made it her own. I have issues with the description “inspired” but I think she credited the author enough. I regularly “steal” and “adapt” recipes from my aunt- she copies recipes into her recipe file without credits so I can never credit the real source but only my aunt….perhaps this is what happened to the original author in this case??
My Carolina Kitchen says
It seems to me that a lot of this boils down to when to use “inspired” and when to use “adapted.” I find that a lot of people don’t know the difference.
Agreed. I will have to explore that in more detail.
Amy Davies says
I don’t think it’s right that she would print the recipe in full, saying she had changed it.
I’m not a recipe writer, but I understand it takes a LOT of hard work to perfect a recipe, and so I believe it should be credited fully.
On my blog, I use recipes from books and websites, but I never print the recipe. After describing my experience with the recipe, I put a link to the online version of the recipe at the bottom, or tell them which book it came from. If I change anything about a recipe, I have a special section in each post for “Amendments”.
But then again, on the other hand it’s a tricky one if you wanted to show the process of making something through photographs, as by showing each step (and describing it) you are basically typing out the recipe – I guess if I were to do this I’d limit it to a couple of steps, or only use it for my own recipes.
The thing about linking to a recipe is that if you’re trying to build a recipe database to attract visitors who come from search engines, it won’t work. They will want to see a full recipe.
I like that you say what you have amended, though. It’s interesting for the reader, let alone for full disclosure.
Amy Davies says
You’re right, it won’t work – but I could no way compete with the recipe databases of places like Good Food, delicious, Nigella etc – they have thousands.
Although because I name my posts “Cinnamon and apple muffins – Nigella Kitchen” – for instance, sometimes people get to my page from searching for a particular recipe, which I can then point them in the right direction.
The point of my blog is more to describe my experience of making something from a recipe, not as a recipe itself – it that makes sense. I also write about the process of photographing the food, since a lot of people seem to come looking for photography tips as well.
Your photos are gorgeous, Amy. And I like the idea of doing a kind of review of recipes where you talk about making them.
Amy Davies says
Thank you dianne, that’s very kind of you to say!
I am a novice baker, and I figured the best way to learn would be to make lots of recipes so I can get a better idea of how to create something.
When I’m a bit mor eexperienced I hope to make my own recipes, but I think I will continue to review recipes – I think it’s intereresting because you could read the recipe and have perfect results, and I could read it and have a disaster (and vice versa).
Absolutely. There’s a famous story about the Baker’s Dozen group in the SF Bay area all making the same angel food cake, and you could go around the table and see how they were different.
I believe that the added value of the photos and tips deserve the praise. As well, linking to the source is also very valuable, because perhaps many of their readers had never thought to buy that book before.
As long as the source is credited and there is some added value in the content, it seems fair that they’re getting the praise.
Now as for the actual recipe itself, I know people who write cookbooks and they do indeed test relentlessly to make sure their efforts are reproducible and easy to understand. That said, I believe recipes are meant to be shared, to spread the joy of cooking and eating.
Yes, recipes are meant to be shared. Photocopy them and hand them out to friends, give your friends your own recipes, but when it comes to publishing, there are rules about plagiarism, even if recipes can’t be copyrighted.
You have more than 100 direct responses to the question so I’ll just give some anecdotes.
A while ago, I found one of my photos on another website, illustrating someone else’s soup recipe. Never mind that the photo (with my watermark) illustrated my specific soup recipe; the recipe accompanying it on the other site had been lifted straight from about.com! (And credited, but still.) Then, there were five comments, all of which said “Looks good!” It was so ridiculous and not serious that I didn’t bother to respond.
Then, a day ago, I found a German blogger used a recipe of mine, rephotographed and linked. I have no idea whether he “adapted” the recipe or translated it verbatim, since Google translator isn’t that accurate. Sure, it damages the ego to think that the recipe has become less “mine,” but having my recipes presented to new audiences (and credited) is probably only a good thing.
I don’t think it’s a good thing to have people steal your recipes or your photographs. I would go after them. See Elise Bauer’s post on this subject.
Nancy Baggett says
Liz, the topic of plagiarism has come up before–it’s a huge problem to all folks actually creating their own work and posting on the web. Dianne has posted about it, and so have I. I went and found some excellent free software to run to see just who’s out there borrowing what stuff from me and posted on it recently. You might want to try running some of the software yourself.
j. crew says
Your kidding right? There is no such thing as an “Original” recipe. You may think your the fist but it has all been done before. There are also NO “copy rights” to recipes and that is the reason why. As far as copy and paste that’s another story. You may be just as guilty and dont realize it. Just because I use O.J. instead of milk in my milk shakes dose that make it an original. I have never heard anyone else say they do that with their shakes. But I would be ignorant to assume I am the only one on earth that has done it. Should this comment be copy written? Dang it i just gave away my seceret! The original author should be happy that the world can now enjoy her cake! Unless its all about the money and not the food. Food Bloggers don’t make money generaly. they do it for the love of food, to share how easy cooking can be, and show that gourmet cooking is not as inaccesable as they may think.
j.crew, hmm. Aren’t you a retail store?
You’re entitled to your opinion, even though I don’t agree.
To your question of whether your comment should be copy written, I don’t know what that means, but it could use a spell check.
I think a spirit of generosity on both sides of this is ideal: a recipe writer open to sharing her work and a blogger who gives credit where credit is due. I posted a smoothie recipe today from a cookbook.after getting advanced permission to do so. The authors were delighted that I like their recipes. I was happy to spread the word about their books. It was a lovely exchange. I could have easily posted my own smoothie recipe, but wanted to publish one of theirs because I have used their books for years and wanted to give them a shout out.
No problem, Katie. You contacted the author and got permission. Everyone’s happy.
Heather Jones says
Maybe this isn’t applicable because Melissa didn’t post this on a food blog but I just thought it might give everyone some food for thought. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/dining/17appe.html?_r=2&ref=dining&oref=login
I think it’s perfectly applicable. She wrote about her process of how she comes up with new recipe ideas, and gave credit to the recipes that inspired her. By now, however, the recipe is hers.
Nancy Baggett says
Actually, while the list of ingredients can’t be copyrighted, ip attorneys say the intro text and instruction text are indeed copyrightable, just like other text. So, technically, a recipe must be rewritten in the borrower’s own words to be reused (unless permission to use has been granted). Additionally, tho people often argue that recipes aren’t unique enough to be copyrighted, they very often are. Take a very simple shortbread for example: Ingredients are simple, but methods are wildly different. Butter can be cut in or beaten in; added alone or mixed with the sugar; sugar can be white, powdered, or brown; dough can be baked in a pan & cut into bars, or hand-shaped, or rolled and cut out. Flavorings, nuts, etc., can be added or not. Garnishes can be added or not Each decision will yield a unique shortbread, different in taste, texture and appearance from any other.
Yes, that is what I have read as well. This blogger wrote her own headnote and method. The latter was easy because she took step-by-step photos for them.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of “3 changes don’t necessarily make a recipe your own” and the subjectivity of such a measure. Is it possible we underestimate the power of a few small changes?
As the creator of several original recipes, I have had friends and commenters tell me they made changes based on personal preferences, dietary limitations, ingredient availability or ignorance that left me hoping they didn’t tell anybody where they got the original recipe.
That all sounds fine. I’m talking about the kind of changes the blogger in this post made, just so she could post the recipe. Changing vanilla to 1 tsp. instead of 2 is not a sufficient change, nor is combining the spices and using pumpkin pie spice instead, which has the same ingredients. Changing the icing is a good move but doesn’t make up for the insincerity of the other two.
Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. says
Sometimes when I see an “adapted” recipe I wonder is this person capable of inventing any recipe from scratch? Are they good enough cooks? Are they skilled bakers? If s/he don’t have the skills to invent their own chocolate chip cookie out of the blue, can they claim to be the owners of their personalized verion of Jacques Torres NY Time chocolate cookie because they have “adapted” it?
That is a good question. Many people like making pre-existing recipes and sharing them with others. Plus, coming up with a new recipe is a lot of work. So I think it’s perfectly okay to do the former, if it’s done right.
Very few recipes are truly original. Take chocolate chip cookies. All the recipes in even the most respected cookbooks are very similar in the proportions of flour, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt. The only apparent differences are in the creaming technique, type of chocolate and flavoring (vanilla or not). Yet the results are quite different. I think it’s very hard to draw the line and say, this recipe is original and that is not. That’s why honest writers attribute.
I agree that it is very hard, and chocolate chip cookies is a great example. Most recipes, however, are not as iconic.
Rick Rodgers says
The fact that Alice Medrich, a true goddess of our business, just did an entire book on variations on the chocolate chip cookie theme proves that, indeed, a recipe is not just a recipe. On the other hand, Michael Ruhlman (in his book RATIO) has shown that you can use a basic formula as the starting point for recipes. Sorry, but I see that most of the recipes that are “borrowed” from other writers are done so merely out of laziness and expediency. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that.
Stephanie Weaver says
Thank you for addressing this perplexing topic, one which is particularly important to me, as I change (“renovate”) recipes to make them healthier for people with special diets. In my case, I read up on this topic before starting my blog, finding David Lebovitz’s attribution discussion particularly helpful, and I always say where the original recipe came from, as well as why and how I changed it. If it’s from a cookbook, I link to where they can buy that cookbook.
I also develop my own recipes. But honestly, I have “invented” a delicious mango salsa. When I Google “mango salsa recipe” there are pages of them, some very similar to mine that I did not read in advance. So I agree it’s a challenge.
If I ever do publish a cookbook, I would certainly only use my recipes in it, not ones I have adapted slightly from others. I certainly hope that any author or other blogger would let me know if they were unhappy with my approach. Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.
David did a thorough job in his discussion, and I have read it many times. I’m not sure about the “changing 3 things” approach to adapting recipes, if the changes are minor. I suppose for some people it’s just an easy way to get someone else’s recipe on their blogs.
Yes, the mango salsa is a good example. You think you’ve got something new and then you Google it and find out it seems like there’s nothing new under the sun.
Michelle Zack says
How can we blame bloggers for something when professionals do it to?
I watched a video on the “Best Fudge Brownies” by Curtis Stone (http://www.kitchendaily.com/2010/03/08/best-fudge-brownies/) and in the first 16 seconds he says that the recipe is actually his friend Rochelle’s (Rochelle Palermo – not that he gives a last name but I got to that page from her website.)
The video was posted on KitchenDaily, AOL’s food site. And what text do the AOL editors put on the page? “Get Curtis Stone’s Best Fudge Brownies recipe.
Not get Curits Stone’s friend Rochelle Palermo’s Best Fudge Brownies recipe.
And it’s not just the editors- Curtis could have used Rochelle’s last name too when giving credit.
Point is if pro’s do it we certainly can’t expect a higher standard from bloggers.
The AOl editors aren’t necessarily reading the fine print. Since it’s Curtis’s show, that’s how they blurb it. At least he gave his friend credit, although I agree that it would’ve been better to use her last name.
Re how pros do it, most professionals do a good job of giving credit where credit is due.
Christine @ Cook the Story says
Dianne and Commenters,
I can’t tell you how much I’ve benefited from this post and the discussion following it. I’m a new food-blogger who has agonized over these types of details for my posts. I felt like I was getting it wrong with every attempt. But now I see that even experienced bloggers/writers are wrestling with these issues.
That makes me feel much better!
For now, I’ll just keep putting my most original creations forward while being as honest about inspirations and sources as possible.
Isn’t it great to read these comments? Using someone else’s recipes is a touchy subject, worth trying to figure out. I’m grateful to everyone who’s tried to do so here in this post.
I have a problem with food bloggers writing recipes in this manner. Frankly, if I wanted to see a photo of a recipe I’d look in one of the hundred cookbooks I already have. I enjoy reading the blogs of food writers that do their own cooking, not making someone else’s art and posting it on their blog with a fancy photo. Lots of these bloggers get accolades, too, but I just don’t get it. I’m new to the blogging community, maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be?
It seems to be the norm for many food bloggers, Kimberley, and technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. Karmically, that might be a different matter.
I think a point has been missed here, which is that food blogging isn’t only about creating new recipes. It’s often a way of saying ‘hey, I saw this recipe and tried it and here’s what I thought, what I changed, etc.’ It’s just tossing around ideas, reviews and inspirations. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so long as the original author is credited. But even that can be hard to do, especially since (as has been noted) there aren’t many truly original recipes out there. An example: I thought I’d invented Fetziki, and I may have, but a quick Google search tells me so did several other bloggers.
I recently posted a Bread Pudding recipe from one of my favourite books. Since I didn’t change a thing, I scanned the page (and got the author’s permission). The blog post resulted in at least 2 book sales for her (that I know of). When I later posted a version of her Jambalaya recipe, I also credited her (with a link to her book) but as ‘adapted from’, since I changed it slightly. It’s true that it’s hard to know how much you have to change a recipe before its yours. I’d say always err on the side of caution. It never hurts to cite your inspiration – it’s good karma and, who knows, one day someone may be citing YOU!
One problem I’ve noticed is that, in an effort to leave as many comments as possible, some bloggers don’t really read the posts before commenting how much they ‘love your recipe’. So it’s they, rather than I, who are giving me credit for something I never claimed was mine. I find that frustrating and embarrassing.
It’s fine to run the recipe if you get the author’s permission, and I’m glad you did so, Ruby. Your last comment goes to what I brought up in my post, that sometimes the commenters don’t seem to get that it’s not your recipe.
This is a simple thank you! I have spent over 2 hours reading almost every comment of your lasts 4 posts. I feel quite enlightened. Plenty food for thought! Well worth it. I started blogging 2 months ago and thanks to David Lebowitz’ notes on blogging and accrediting your sources, I got off on the right path. I do believe in giving credit where credit is due. We all win when good recipes are shared. No losers. Really. I always refer to cookbooks/magazines/blogs directly when I am inspired by a recipe. No matter how much I tweak or technically change the recipe , which is often the case. I’m doing this because I’m hoping it will increase sales or attract attention, because they have earned it – and perhaps naively hoping that readers will accredit me, if they like one of my recipes. I post a new recipe every 3-4 days. Many are my own creations. My mind is constantly working on new ideas. It’s a hobby and a passion. I dream about food and blogging is an amazing outlet for someone like me. Btw I just ordered your book. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks again for a very inspiring evening. I shall be back.
Well, what a pleasure to receive your email. You are most welcome. I hope my blog continues to attract your attention.
When I post about making recipes that are not my own, I always give credit. At this point, I have chosen NOT to use any recipes that are printed in books. If I ever chose to do that, I would certainly ask for permission first.
Here’s an example of what I have done (though please bear in mind I’ve only been writing as a food blogger for a month or so now):
1) Wrote about needing to make a GF birthday cake and wanting to decorate it with dinosaurs for a child’s b-day
2) Posted a link to the recipe that I used. I did not re-type the recipe. I simply said: “Here’s the recipe I used, and here’s why I loved it and recommend it.”
3) Gave step-by-step picture directions for decorating a GF dinosaur cake for a child’s b-day.
Now, there are posts that I’ve done where I’ve written my own recipe from scratch, or by borrowing a basic fat/starch ratio and then totally modifying all the ingredients. Like, I looked at the ratio of an oatmeal cookie recipe and came up with a banana-oat breakfast cookie that looked nothing like the recipe I glanced at. I work diligently to give credit when a recipe is definitely not my own, but I see no problem with borrowing a basic ratio or linking to someone else’s recipe. I see linking to someone’s site as a head nod, and it directs my traffic to their site, which hopefully they appreciate.
I like the example you gave, April, of posting a link to the recipe, and then doing your own riff on personalizing it. That is original and it’s very respectful of the original writer. I see no problem with borrowing a basic ratio, especially if you give credit for the inspiration.
Cookin at Home says
There is a blog that I have come across that has really rubbed me the wrong way. I had a friend recommend the site to me, and after looking at it, I have no idea why! The entire site is completely ripping off other people’s content (photos and recipes). She has a Facebook page as well, and all the pictures posted are off of other websites. I typed a couple of her recipes into Google and would find the same recipe almost verbatim and it’s clear all she did was copy and paste. I have tried to comment nicely for her to give credit to where she found the recipes but she doesn’t approve the comments or respond. Should I just ignore this and move on? It just bothers me because I have become a fan of some really great blogs and I just hate to see someone stealing content and not caring.
No, you should not ignore this and move on. You should tell her, very politely, as if it was your best friend who is screwing up, that it’s wrong. I have had to tell people things like this and it is very hard. But I get up the guts, most of the time. And most of the time, people tell me they didn’t know, and they thank me. Maybe they will just ignore my advice, but at least I feel better!
How is this the author’s recipe, though? She took it from her grandmother’s cookbook, gets to call it her own and make money off of it?
Hah! I can’t believe that no one has brought up this point. Good one.
This is a really useful source of information. I’m starting to write some of my first blog posts, and there were things in here I hadn’t even thought about…up until now. It seems like it’s going to be hard to please everyone!
That’s true, but it’s good to think about the ethical ramifications of using someone else’s recipes. Good luck, Natalie.
On one food blog I follow fairly religiously, all her recipes are clearly stated as “adapted from…” But her changes are so inspired that I have to praise her. It’s not just more of this and less of that, it’s a total 180 degree twist on the original. So, yeah, she deserves to be praised.
In most instances, though, I don’t think positive comments are more than a reflex meaning “I support your blog” or “I like the recipes you feature” or “your food porn is the best!” You know, knee jerk? That credit to the originator probably just flies over the commenters’ heads.
It does kind of bother me on one level because I develop my own recipes, but I know not everyone else has the time or inclination to do that. And, really, isn’t a food blog as much about the personality/style of the blogger as it is about the recipes?
Interesting, Ruthie. I’d like to know who this food blogger is, so I can see her adaptations.
I suspect most food bloggers are not creating original recipes. As for your question, I guess it depends on the blog. Some are full of personality, and some are focused on the recipe.
I never name names, even if my comments are positive. I’m not food blogging at the moment, but I’m working on getting back online, so I want to be honest in my comments but not make enemies. Lord, that makes me sound like a wimp. /;)
I tend to be outspoken, but I don’t want to be hurtful. Nor do I want to open up a woman who seems to be very nice and, I should add, quite popular, to the adapted-by police. I have pretty high standards and can be hypercritical. This (food blogging) has traditionally been a pretty friendly, supportive community, and I think there’s room in it for those who create their own recipes as well as those who only do inspired adaptations.
And, really, if someone has a goal of posting daily, that’s hard enough to do well, without adding the burden of always being original. Think of it as a friend’s house where it’s comfortable, enjoyable, attractive although maybe not exciting. Would you drop that friend for his/her lack of originality?
I can be hypercritical too, Ruthie. It’s not a great club to be in.
I thought this post brought up an interesting point. Bloggers and recipe writers are going to continue to adapt. We just have to be aware of the issues that it brings up.
Yes. I guess this is one of those times when each individual has to decide to decide between playing it safe (if so, why are you bothering to blog?) or playing fearless blogger and CYA big time.
Barbara | Creative Culinary says
I ended up on this post quite obviously some time after it was originally written curious to see if a person with a popular blog who it appears has just used one of my recipes for inspiration might have commented on recipe attribution on your blog since it’s quite evident my recipe has been used and yet no mention has been made of said inspiration.
Still, I have a very open minded sense of all of this. I did not start a blog but for one reason. To cull together the recipes I love in one place. I started this exercise 17 years ago, almost a decade before food blogging started to become a cottage industry of it’s own and now there are rules and expectations that floor me.
In the zest for credits it sometimes feels as if the purpose of many of us is lost. I’m not cooking for notoriety. I’m not blogging for a book deal or hits. I cook for the love of the job; it’s creative, fun and the reward at the end is feeding those I love the most. I post recipes on my blog that I make and love, whether they are my own creations or those of others. In that effort, I can’t remember when I haven’t put my own spin on a recipe…for me that is the creative part that makes it mine. Maybe not in the eyes of the person who ‘created’ it but how much of that creativity can be held only by the writer Dianne?
Isn’t part of that my own capability and experience if not always my own creativity? Doesn’t the time I spend shopping, chopping, dicing, measuring, cooking, styling, photographing, writing and editing mean I have vested ME in this process? Doesn’t that allow me some ownership of the end result?
If the majority of the people writing blogs are only doing so to get a cookbook deal then maybe the bent of these essays and comments are in that vein. I’m not. I do this for me, for my friends and yes…for my children. I have built a literal library of decades of favorites; all in one space for them to have at their fingertips. I’m not using others’ recipes to build my own advantage but I’m also not doing this work so that I can build theirs. The notion that I should do that work and then just link to another blog for the recipe bothers me in a very real sense. They are now the keepers of my efforts. What if they go away? For me it seems like the same as having a great experience with a friend but instead of keeping that experience for me in MY diary that I should put it in theirs. Who is guaranteeing that diary will survive with important pieces of my life?
How I long for the day when the sharing of recipes was something given freely and generously, without expectation. Do I attribute? Absolutely. Do I feel the sense of righteousness about attribution has jumped the shark? Absolutely.
Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Barbara. People have different reasons for starting a blog. You do it because you love to cook. In the old days you might have photocopied a recipe you loved and passed it on to someone you fed who raved about it. Now you can pass it along on a blog, where it is published. So that is a little different, because publishing someone else’s work has ramifications about ownership. What’s nice about writing your own blog post, on the other hand, is that you can amend the recipe and make it more of your own — at least theoretically.
I don’t think the majority of food blogs exist because the bloggers hope for book deals. They are hobbies.
Re the staying power of recipes, it is true that someone might take down a recipe post, and your link will be lost. Most don’t, though. All this stuff that we’re creating will be out there on the Internet forever, unless we have a reason to remove it. Like you say, you can choose to memorialize the experience on your blog instead. But then these issues come into play.
Re the past days when people shared recipes freely and generously, the situation was different. Probably most people were hobby cooks who had not published their recipes, and the person they gave the recipe to was not going to publish it.
I’m following this thread and your other post on “adjusting a recipe does not make it yours” with interest, Dianne.
Most cooks, most food bloggers are inspired in some way by others’ recipes, dishes they’ve made, photos they’ve come across, and I’m no different. But what does differ is how each one of us interprets and modifies the recipe. Recipes have been shared for decades, if not centuries and certainly well before Samuel Pepys published his diaries in the 17th Century and food blogging is the contemporary way of passing around a recipe.
I fully expect my published recipes to be shared and am proud to read analytical reports to let me know the number of times someone has shared my pages. Naturally, I’d be unhappy about the reproduction of my work verbatim, especially if my photos are copied, but I think it is in the nature of food blogging, that your work will inspire others.
Yes, recipes have been shared for decades, from mother to daughter, photocopies by friends, etc. That is different than sharing recipes for profit. But there’s also nothing illegal about it unless you basically copy and paste it and claim it as your own. So these are new issues we have to wade through and figure out what’s right.
And re other people reproducing your work verbatim, that happens to food bloggers all the time.
Nice post with interesting subject.
What an interesting read, including the comments! I’m not a blogger, just a passionate home cook. I personally find most cooking blogs a turn-off for the reason/question you pose; it feels very disingenuous to constantly see blogs which make the tiniest adaptation and then say “inspired by” or “adapted from” such and such. I primarily use cookbooks, but when I’ve occasionally used recipes from blogs, 95% of the ones I’ve tried have this long thread of someone making the tiniest tweak to a recipe, then saying “adapted by”, and if I go to their website, it’s the same thing, all the way back to a cookbook, with not a single person making a significant change. Subbing milk for semisweet chocolate, that sort of thing. The other 5% of the recipes I’ve tried don’t even bother giving ANY credit. I.e., I like a few recipes from Sally’s Baking Addiction, who has a reputation of adapting the base recipes from Cook’s Illustrated and other very reputable sources, and just not giving them any credit at all; she’s lately started joining the “adapted by” group, which is a (small) improvement.
Your article brought to my attention the unfairness of one person spending loads of time and money developing a recipe, and someone else making much more money on the recipe, though I will be much more aware of that dynamic now, as well as the complication that many of these bloggers do drive eventual cookbook sales for the original author. I can imagine how frustrating it is for the original recipe author to have their work stolen (though developing a personal strategy for how to deal with and/or ignore this is a lot healthier than stewing over it).
What has always bothered me is that it is disingenuous / dishonest. If a blogger seems to rely on people thinking that they are a brilliant recipe developer, when really they are just good at following recipes, beautiful photographs, and have an engaging voice, their lying about the former feels gross to me. If I make a cookie recipe that was developed by King Arthur Flour, but I add mini chocolate chips to it instead of regular chocolate chips, and then I have 5 to 50 of my followers commenting that I’m “brilliant”, then something is not being clearly communicated to the reader about what I’m actually doing. I can’t imagine, in real life or as a blogger, not then responding with, “actually, King Arthur Flour is brilliant!”. The article should ideally be very very clear about what I actually did, and it would be even nicer if the blogger then commented to these types of comments with humility. [I know that this is probably unrealistic, but that is the kind of person who I would want to ‘follow’ on a blog.] I just read this “brilliant” comment the other day, which is what led me to google the subject and find your article!. What I’m looking for would be for them to really take the time to give credit to the recipe, i.e., “I’ve seen this all over the internet and wanted to try it with my favorite brownie recipe, which I barely tweaked from Ina Garten” – here is a link to the cookbook I used, or “I love the time that they spend testing at Cook’s Illustrated and couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen to try this recipe; I’ve noted the original recipe and my changes in parentheses.” Giving credit and being grateful and honest about the source are ethical issues.
Why do people do it? It works, it sells. For every one person who is annoyed by the lack of honesty, 10 more people have no idea that it’s going on (or don’t care). The blogger I mentioned earlier has a few cookbooks out! Could she/would she have ever gotten them published if she was super honest about her small tweaks? I don’t know that anyone would buy a cookbook from someone who does that… but they do, if they are not consciously aware of it. But personally, that is exactly the reason why I don’t follow her blog or buy her cookbooks; while I use her as an occasional reference, I don’t want to give her any business because I don’t want to support someone who doesn’t have the self-awareness or interest in being completely honest. And come to think of it, there is a VERY popular blogger who is super honest about using other people’s recipes, and if I recall she also has her own cookbook out. So that’s good 🙂 But anytime that people have very positive financial and emotional feedback from doing the wrong thing … well, that’s a hard force to stop.
Short version: No, bloggers shouldn’t be praised for recipes they don’t write, and there are MANY of us who notice this and don’t follow those blogs for that reason.
Thank you for this long comment, Sonya. I completely agree, but that’s how it is now. There are bloggers who just steal recipes outright, bloggers who make tiny adaptations, and bloggers who really do say what they changed. The only example I can think of is David Lebovitz, in this latter category. And yes, it doesn’ seem to stop them from getting book deals, especially the bloggers with large audiences.
Robert Lue says
I really appreciate your insights on this. Thanks for this very interesting and insightful post.