Monday, March 26, 2012

Copyright, or wrong, and popcorn

Poached fish and potatoes with caviar sauce


Food Diary (March 26, 2012)
Breakfast: Rolled oats with raisins, coconut, sunflower seeds, almonds and flax seeds
Lunch: Poached fish and potatoes with caviar sauce
Dinner: Pizza, sandwich

Copyright, or wrong?

Recently I posted a recipe for a cake. I got the recipe from a public website (Guardian) and clearly attributed source. The Guardian in turn got the recipe from a British baker (I will not mention his name here otherwise this post will show up on search engines). I changed the recipe substantially, and also changed the wording of the method. Last week I received a note from the baker’s business manager asking me to remove the recipe. I justified my actions but he kept insisting. I ignored his requests. I then got a polite email from Harper Collins, the publisher, requesting that I remove the recipe. I wrote the following email and haven’t heard back since:

Thank you for your email.

I don't have a copy of [name of recipe book]. I got the recipe from the Guardian website and as you saw on my blog I have clearly mentioned the source.

I made some modifications to the recipe. Instead of using 50ml yogurt as the recipe suggests I used 100 ml milk. And instead of 175 ml sunflower oil I used 125 ml neutral oil. I also excluded rye or wholemeal flour from the recipe. These changes affected the texture and flavour of the cake. Because of the modifications I cannot simply refer to the Guardian site. It only makes sense that I write out the recipe in full. The recipe is already publicly available, it has been published on a public website, not a book or journal with limited distribution. It would be a completely different story if I took a recipe from his book and wrote the recipe on my blog.

Before making this recipe I was not aware of [name of baker], now I am. You will note that many readers left positive comments on my other site (http://three-cookies.blogspot.se/2012/03/butterscotch-banana-cake.html). I guess not all of them are familiar with [name of baker] and after being exposed to this wonderful recipe they may consider buying his book. I publicised publicly available information and this could result in an increase in his book sales, perhaps. This can only be good news since there is no harm done.

You will see that I always acknowledge source. There are bloggers that don't do that and I am sure recipes from his book have been put on blogs. I think it makes more sense for you to focus your energy on such bloggers instead of me.

However if you feel that I am infringing some law, please let me know what I should do since I have modified the recipe. If I was to remove the recipe and refer to the Guardian source what should I write. Can you please spell it out specifically.

I hope you take a practical perspective to this issue.

Copyright is quite a tricky issue. For example St├ęphanie and Caroline Tatin created the tarte tatin but I see many recipes on the internet that don’t attribute the source to St├ęphanie and Caroline Tatin. Many chefs have tons of unattributed recipes. The baker I am referring to above has a baklava recipe but I don’t think he learnt to make baklava from his mother or grandmother.

I read this on the U.S. Copyright Office website:
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.

In my situation the business manager found my post by doing an internet search. If I didn’t mention the source, the post would not have come up in the search. Since I changed the recipe I could claim it to be mine but I preferred to mention where I got the recipe from. It seems attributing source can get you into trouble (or give you headache at least) since you can be identified through search engines. On the other hand if you don’t attribute source it will be harder for ‘business managers’ to find your recipe, If they do somehow find it, you could get into trouble, but only if they manage to prove that you took copyrighted recipe, and this is hard. It’s a dilemma. Are we being encouraged or discouraged from attributing source? A lot of blogs that I visit clearly attribute source. I don’t think cook book authors attribute their source as much as bloggers do. I only own one cook book so I don’t know for sure.


Don’t consider what I have written above as advise from me, its just my thoughts, I am not an intellectual property lawyer.

Today's Favourite Photo
Tangerine-poppy seed chiffon cake




Today’s Favourite Blog
Do you like popcorn? Here’s the good news: popcorn contains more of the healthful antioxidant substances called "polyphenols" than fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn since it averages only about 4 percent water. On the other hand polyphenols are diluted in vegetables since they contain up to 90 percent water.

The hulls of the popcorn has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

Popcorn is the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients. Although cereals are called "whole grain," this simply means that over 51 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain. One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way. However the way people prepare and serve popcorn can quickly put a dent in its healthful image.

Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself."

20 comments:

  1. Wow... It is scary. I don't want any troubles so I always mention the recipe source if there is any. I even put "inspired by (blog name)" if I really get inspired by the recipe. But I guess that's the tricky part?

    Japanese seasonings have only few ingrediens for a lot of food, and it's nearly impossible to say "this is my original" because your neighbor might put 2 Tbsp. soy sauce instead of 3 Tbsp. and the US copyright document sort of makes sence for that part...

    Your story reminded me of one incident I had. I made this dressing called "xxxx dressing". That xxxx part is a Japanese word whicih means 'Japanese-style' (I don't want Search Engine pick up so I won't spell it either). This dressing company who's name is exact same as xxxx contacted me saying that "xxxx dressing" is their product name and it has trade mark so I can't use it.

    I was like, WHAT? That's how we call it in Japan. It means Japanese-Style Dressing, and I can't say any other way to describe that dressing! How can you say, "You can't use Shrimp Tempura" because Tempura is my company's name... I almost said it was bad choice for them to name like that....

    But they emailed me later saying they actually cannnot claim that it's not illegal for me to use it. But honestly, it's a commonly used Japanese word and you need "Japanese-styled" whatever for anything, and this happened to be the dressing, which is that's company's name and product. Grrrr... Anyway, they gave me the dressing samples, which was the recent giveaway you might remember.

    Oh boy... who knew I could be in trouble! I just name what it's really called. I bet you used all your energey trying to explain that you didn't do anything wrong! (sorry about long comment today - I got too excited)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember that dressing. In your case you had a happy ending, the company acknowledged you were right and sent you some samples. Maybe I will receive a cookbook from the publisher, though I doubt it:)
      This copyright issue is quite tricky and bit vague. I guess on some occasions companies will try to use 'bullying tactics' since they expect bloggers to be the weaker party. They can threaten legal action and scare bloggers. But they are the ones who have to prove bloggers breached the copyright law. Its not easy and both parties may incur expenses in the process. I guess the practical solution is to avoid such situations, whether or not we are right. In my case acknowledging source gave me headache, which is sad since thats the right thing to do, from a moral perspective anyway.

      Delete
  2. Interesting exchange with that baker's business manager. It's odd that he would even be "trolling" for his client's name like that, akin to Googling someone's name. Even more so, you changed two ingredients and omitted one, along with varying the instructions. So, in the scope of copyright law, you should be fine, especially since you did link back to the publicly available recipe. Technically, changing three ingredients makes your version "different enough" to stand alone as a completely new recipe. Some people are just pickier than others. The baker and his manager have issue with The Guardian, not you. Some people...sigh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts. It is odd that they are searching through google. I guess he has a lot of time on his hands:)

      Delete
  3. What a bummer.
    You should have mentioned the fact that since they're probably going to benefit from the hike in book sales from all the positive comments and viewers you generated from your posting, maybe they should consider sending a nice part of that profit to you ... or else! Then they'll probably turn around and say something else ... yeah, corporate lawyers are big bullies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thats a really good idea, wish I thought of that earlier, I would have certainly mentioned it in my email to the publisher:) I don't think there will be a hike in book sales due to my actions, but thanks for the kind thoughts:)

      Delete
  4. Oh yes I think I know who you mean, his business manager has been making the rounds of blogs. Amanda from Lambs Ears and Honey had a similar situation to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yap, thats him. I read the comments on the Lambs Ears and Honey blog.

      Delete
  5. Mr. Three-Cookies, don't worry. For certain reasons I was actually very interested recently in UK recipe copyright law and I can assure you there is no such thing as a recipe idea copyright (as in the US) or recipe ingredients copyright. Even if you used exactly the same ingredients and amounts, you can use the recipe! A recipe that can be copyrighted is the whole text including the instructions (but if you change half of each sentence it's no longer the same text!) because it's the form and not the content that can be copyrighted.
    I think these people think you have no knowledge in this field (maybe their attitude worked with other bloggers?) or they simply are ignorant. It's the first time I hear about such a weird reaction. Everyone posts recipes from books or websites.
    Recently there was a case of a chef who made exactly the same recipe as Heston Blumenthal (a very very complicated one) and in the article I read (I think on The Telegraph) the author was saying there is no way HB could sue him (even if he wanted).
    In short, you are right and they are wrong and they cannot do anything.
    The dish with caviar looks extraordinary, like from a science-fictin film ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. I don't think they will reply.
      It seems they certainly have negative opinion of bloggers, some bloggers do disrespect copyright laws but not everyone is like that. Some cookbook authors and chefs also disrespect copyright laws.
      I read about a similar case of a restaurant in Australia copying WD50's dishes. The owner of WD50 knew about this and decided to take no action. He himself got inspiration from the dish from Heston...
      Thanks for the compliments on the science fiction dish, I think the concept and plating is copyrighted:)

      Delete
  6. Oh, and I have at least 100 cookery books at home and I can tell you most books don't cite any source at all! And I'm sure a big majority of the recipes are not invented "from the scratch".
    I am curious if they answer one day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, a library of recipe books.
      I thought so that most authors don't cite source

      Delete
  7. I am so sorry to hear you have been put through so much grief. If I had a published cookbook I would be so grateful to any blogger for spreading the word and giving me some free publicity. I don't understand their gripe. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Actually it wasn't much of a grief, it was enlightening, I learnt more about recipe copyrighting, or the lack of it.

      Delete
  8. Hmmm..very interesting to read about this, I learnt something useful but definitely hope this wont happen to me or anyone else for that matter. Glad you brought this up:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope this kind of things don't repeat often, it doesn't seem to benefit anyone (except lawyers if it gets to that stage).

      Delete
  9. Call me a paranoid, but the copyright situation you are going through is exactly what I am most scared of about blogging.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is probably (hopefully) a rare occurence. At least I learnt more in the process

      Delete
  10. Wow I will eat popcorn now everytime I watch a movie

    ReplyDelete
  11. YIKES! I also always give sources and change the wording, but often only make wee tweaks in a recipe. Yours is a whole different case. Excellent letter, though...and you've made your case...in my opinion. Thanks for sharing your experience with us all.

    ReplyDelete