Recipes and copyright - followup

Some very thoughtful responses were left to my previous post, about recipes and copyright. Rather than trying to squeeze all my responses in a comment, here is a folow-up:

Rachel, who was quoted in the Washington Post article, says:

I hate seeing something that I know is say, a Nigella Lawson recipe posted on someone's blog without giving credit. Obviously you can't copywrite ingredients but the directions are always unique and often in the author's "voice". That's just plagarism. For my personal food blog, I made a choice to only post orginial recipes.

I totally agree about the non-attibution. I have occasionally stumbled upon one or other other of my recipes quoted verbatim, and I have also seen recipes that looked suspiciously familiar, as in "haven't I read tht in [insert book title here]?

However, I do enjoy reading people who have tried various published recipes for themselves. There are even sites such as the gorgeous 101 Cookbooks that are centered around the premises of trying out recipes. Ultimately I think I read food blogs not necessarily because of the recipes, but because the stories surrounding the recipes, or the writing styles, are interesting.

Elise of Simply Recipes, says:

I have noticed a couple of folks who have copied recipes from my site to their sites, including the photos (which are copyright protected), my introductory remarks, and the recipe. I usually find out about this because they are hotlinking the photo from my site as well. I usually leave a comment, which is enough to motivate them to take the post down.

I've also had articles I've written elsewhere copied verbatim. I do like it when people write about having tried one of my recipes, even when it didn't turn out well for them. But simply copying is not so cool.

On the subject of hotlinking, I had such a bad case of hotlinking on my personal site that I did some Apache mod_rewrite trickery so that now if people try to do that to any image there, they will get a nice row of bunnies. Since the Just Hungry site is hosted at Typepad, I believe they have measures preventing that (I haven't had any hotlinking issues here that I know of). (As of August 2006 Just Hungry has been hosted on its own server, with mod_rewrite trickery in full force.)

Yoko says:

I understand the need to protect from the theft of ideas, and respect the laws concerning it. My personal take on recipes and other creative works, however, is that the copyright law is too stringent and does not allow for creative expression-- how many works of art have been inspired or based on others before it?

I agree with this, especially in the realm of food and cooking: often we try out a recipe but improve upon it and personalize it by adding or subtracting. In the food blogging world, reading about those experiments is a big part of the fun.

I think that whenever we try someone else's recipe and write about it, it's common courtesy to:

  • Mention the source, and link back to it.
  • If the site already has the recipe posted, don't re-post it, unless you make major changes to the original.
  • Never, ever hot-link to the photo(s) used in the original, or just copy the image and put it up on your own site. Take your own pictures!

In any case it is certainly food for thought (no pun intended). Thank you to everyone who chimed in on this!

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