Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours

by diannejacob on March 17, 2010

chicken-burrito “My wife was browsing for a good burrito recipe and stumbled on a blog that posted a recipe strikingly similar to one on Food & Wine without giving any credit,” said my friend Ethan in a recent email.

“The blogger had modified the recipe a bit, but clearly a lot of the recipe was cut and pasted,” he continued. “I made a comment, as polite as I could, asking the blogger about it, but I suspect she won’t approve it.”

(I’m not providing a link because I don’t want  you to tear this food blogger a new one. People can get pretty worked up on this blog.)

I was intrigued and went to the food blogger’s site to investigate. While she did not provide credit, her About page said, “A lot of the recipes on this site came from various sources. I do not claim most of these recipes as my own.” 

Well great! Except that it’s not even legal to copy a recipe verbatim and give credit, unless you have permission from the publisher, let alone change a few  things but not enough and not give credit. How hard would it have been to say, “Adapted from Food & Wine?”

You might be surprised to know she rewrote the method and changed quite a few ingredients for her chicken burrito:

  • used half as much boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • specified a sliced onion instead of quartered onion
  • added two garlic cloves
  • used regular sour cream instead of low fat
  • used half as much shredded Monterey Jack
  • left out the shredded lettuce
  • called for a 1/2 cup guacamole instead of a chopped small avocado.

Even so, Ethan and his wife, both enthusiastic home cooks, recognized the doctored recipe right away. So much for the idea that if you modify a recipe, it’s yours.

The fantasy persists. Last week a student in my food writing class said she consulted a lawyer when she left a restaurant. She had developed all the recipes and the owner said they were his property. The lawyer said no problem. All she had to do was change them a little bit, like add a garlic clove, and the recipe would be hers.

Uh, wrong. Now you can see exactly why, particularly when the recipe is already published.

 

{ 89 comments }

Liz January 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm

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

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

A bit of snobbery perhaps?

diannejacob January 22, 2011 at 9:58 pm

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

Nope. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Grant January 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

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

diannejacob January 24, 2011 at 7:06 pm

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

CopyKat Recipes January 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

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

diannejacob May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm

That’s a great idea. I’d love to see her site.

GraceAnn Walden February 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

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

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

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

Totally ridiculous.

GAW

diannejacob February 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

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

kb February 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm

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

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

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

diannejacob February 27, 2011 at 9:53 pm

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

kb March 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm

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

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

judi February 2, 2011 at 11:21 am

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

diannejacob February 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Hah! What a great example! I’d say yes, the recipe writer stole the recipe.

Katerina February 14, 2011 at 9:53 am

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

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

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

diannejacob February 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

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

Annie February 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm

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

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

diannejacob February 18, 2011 at 4:58 pm

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

Allison March 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

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

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

diannejacob March 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm

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

Pam Rauber April 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm

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

diannejacob April 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm

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

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

Aunt Clara July 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

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

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

diannejacob July 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

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

Aunt Clara July 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

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

Marta Lane May 24, 2011 at 8:17 pm
Marta Lane May 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm

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

gaye June 24, 2011 at 6:35 am

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

diannejacob June 24, 2011 at 11:27 am

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

gaye June 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm

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

Rose K. Mark June 30, 2011 at 11:17 am

Dear Dianne,

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

foodhst

diannejacob June 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm

You are welcome, Rose. Its a complicated issue. Good luck figuring it out.

Jane K. July 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm

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

READ:
Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.

Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying it from an existing work.

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

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

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

diannejacob July 29, 2011 at 7:57 am

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

Whitney February 26, 2013 at 6:15 pm

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

diannejacob February 26, 2013 at 7:47 pm

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

Jane K. July 31, 2011 at 12:46 pm

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

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

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

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

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

diannejacob July 31, 2011 at 6:28 pm

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

Ronica April 25, 2013 at 9:17 am

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

diannejacob April 25, 2013 at 10:59 am

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

emily September 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

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

diannejacob September 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm

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

Simon September 13, 2011 at 7:25 am

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

Simon September 13, 2011 at 7:34 am

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

diannejacob September 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

You can look through the cookbooks you own, as a courtesy to the writers. That’s about all I can suggest. Good luck!

diannejacob September 13, 2011 at 9:33 am

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

Simon September 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

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

diannejacob September 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Panfusine September 23, 2011 at 6:04 am

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

Mireille January 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm

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

diannejacob January 22, 2012 at 9:28 pm

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

Nicey May 9, 2013 at 3:24 am

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

Jeanne January 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm

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

diannejacob January 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Thanks Jeanne. Terrific post.

Jennifer February 21, 2012 at 10:57 am

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

diannejacob February 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm

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

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here.

Jennifer February 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm

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

diannejacob February 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm

That sounds very reasonable.

Michelle March 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

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

diannejacob March 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm

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

K March 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm

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

diannejacob March 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

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

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

Amber June 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm

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

diannejacob June 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm

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

cdelg July 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

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

diannejacob July 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm

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

Amanda July 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm

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

diannejacob July 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

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

Tesa July 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

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

diannejacob July 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm

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

Dani Meyer August 5, 2012 at 11:17 am

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

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

diannejacob August 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

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

ro September 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm

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

diannejacob September 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm

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

Katie October 30, 2012 at 4:38 pm

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

diannejacob October 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm

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

Foy Update November 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm

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

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

diannejacob November 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Yes, I often refer people to those links. Both are classics. Thanks.

Joe November 21, 2012 at 8:59 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

diannejacob November 22, 2012 at 10:07 am

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

Judith Evans November 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

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

diannejacob November 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

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

Candace January 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm

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

Krysta December 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

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

diannejacob December 14, 2012 at 10:17 am

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

Dustin January 24, 2013 at 8:55 am

Hello guys,

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

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

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

diannejacob January 24, 2013 at 11:59 am

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

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

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

Laurie August 19, 2013 at 11:44 am

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

diannejacob August 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm

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

Laurie August 20, 2013 at 9:49 am

Good idea! I will talk to them to see what they are comfortable with. Thanks so much.

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