Recipe Attribution: A Murky Issue.

As some of you know, in addition to blogging here, I also run a low-sodium food site called The Daily Dish.  I’ve spent years creating recipes, sometimes off the top of my head, other times jumping off something already published.  I often go through cookbooks and websites looking for new ideas and inspiration.  Whenever I adapt someone else’s work, whether slightly or significantly, I make a point of citing sources and linking to the original.  It’s simply the right thing to do.

Recipes are one of those murky areas of copyright law, where a list of measured ingredients, for instance, isn’t copyright protected, but written directions are.  Most people are honest when it comes to attribution, and if a substantial amount of a recipe comes from someone or someplace else, other than their own mind, they’ll say so.  But not always.

Recipe Attribution by David Leibowitz details the dos and don’ts of navigating this arena.  When it comes to food bloggers there are as many interpretations of this “rule” as there are opinions.  As stated above, my personal view is that individuals have a moral responsibility to fess up when using others ideas.  If not strictly illegal, it’s still unjust to pretend something is yours when it’s not.

I write this because I’ve discovered a case of recipe plagiarism.  Not one of my own recipes, but one created by a famous TV personality and reproduced verbatim on a lesser-known foodie author’s website.  It was a complete fluke that I even made the discovery, but I tried the recipe and it didn’t work.  I was so disappointed by the result that I did some research to figure out what had gone wrong.  Which led to the original.  You see, I wasn’t the only one who’d gotten that same poor result.  Lots of other people had too.  And some of them had kindly left comments on the creator’s site saying so; that the recipe contains an error.  An error that had unwittingly been reproduced in its entirety on the plagiarist’s site!  The two recipes are identical.  The same list of ingredients, the directions mirrored word-for-word.  The only difference?  The original was posted 7 years earlier than the “recycled” copy.

Although part of me would like to believe this lack of attribution was pure oversight — whoops, silly me, I just forgot to mention this isn’t MY recipe and I really found it HERE — this isn’t the case.  I’ve been back to look at this recipe numerous times since finding it, and there is no mention whatsoever of the famous author.  To the contrary, the recipe is offered as the plagiarist’s own inspired work.  No attribution, no mention of anyone else.  Nada.

Part of me would like to call this person out on the plagiarism.  The recipe isn’t just stolen, it’s downright flawed!  But I don’t wish malice on the individual, and it could seriously harm his or her reputation and career.  I must say, however, it has me looking at this person in an extremely different light.  The plagiarist is a published cookbook author, someone who truly ought to know better.  This discovery has me questioning how much leeway he or she takes on a regular basis with regard to other recipes or ideas published as his or her own.  And it’s leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.

0 thoughts on “Recipe Attribution: A Murky Issue.

  1. We have the same problems with music. When writing for a choir I was utilising the same 12 tones as every other musicician, with the sames range of note-lengths, and all the same possible key signatures and harmonic combinations. How we chose to select and arrange them is the art and skill of the composer.

    The same applies with recipes, using ingredients, relative amounts, the mechanics of pastry- or sponge-making, and cooking times and temperatures.

    No-one would think of copying a piece of music without hearing the original first, so your plagiarist would surely try the original recipe just to check how it worked……but obviously he (or she) didn’t bother to test it out. They deserve all they get, but perhaps a private letter to them pointing out the two similar errors might be enough to set them on the right path again.

    P.s. I have never knowingly had my music sung or copied without my knowledge…… maybe I’m just not good enough!

  2. Great points, Harry. Musical composition is very similar to recipe writing; it’s just another form of artistry. Each composer has her or her distinct style, often there’s overlap, but things are either original or not.

    I suspect you’re right. I don’t think the plagiarist tried the recipe – at least not in the same form as it’s written, or he/she would have known it’s flawed. Even sadder, right?

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