Copying and Copyright in Food Blogging

I was browsing some pages about card-making the other day and it sparked some thoughts on food blogging.  I know, kinda random, right?  Someone had posted a card which they’d made, linking back to the almost identical card which they’d copied.  Now, normally this might have tweaked my plagiarism sensibilities but, in this case, it was ‘ok’ because they were following instructions given on how to make the card – the ‘recipe’ for it had been shared.

You can see where this is headed, right?

I’ve never posted recipes for things I’ve made on this site  and only mention where I’ve considerably changed something.  I link back to the original recipe and have always felt that was what I should do.  In looking at the card maker’s site I realised that I’ve brought certain biases from my background to my blog and let them run around without truly examining the nature of their effects.  It has always me vaguely uncomfortable to see someone repost a recipe and instructions – even in their own words and it’s only when I scrutinise this fact that I realise why I feel that way and, perhaps, why I shouldn’t feel that way.

When I was at University I studied history.  Plagiarism and its effects were usually a core part of most courses’ introductory lessons and plagiarism in even one essay would lead people to lose the ability to finish their degree.  It was harsh, in some ways, but right.  There was no reason not to include other opinions, thoughts and inspiration so long as they were properly credited – copying word for word, though, is plain and simple cheating.   History, in part, relies on making sure you know and include a wide range of opinions of others who’ve written about the same subject as you (historiography) and it is almost necessary to quote, in part, sections of another’s writing.  Claiming another’s original work on your own, though, is illegal and morally wrong.

Another side to my background is that I’m an artist.  I feel awkward saying even that much, because I’m only a dabbler, but I’ve always been part of the community.  Within the online art community plagiarism and copying is a major problem.  Both outright stealing images someone else has done to claim as their own but also copying an image – taking, say, a picture of a cat on a window and copying or tracing the composition but changing the colours and media used.  It’s this last bit which is probably most contentious as whilst people feel their hard work has been violated, the work is derivative and some others feel that most artists find it necessary to copy at some stage whilst learning to get better at certain techniques.  Even amongst that group, though, many don’t believe that ‘copies made for practice’ should be displayed as your own work – especially when you don’t make a reference to the original.

So, food blogging.

My slight squeamishness on posting recipe lists and re-doing instructions comes from my history and art background, where directly derivative / partially copied works are sometimes seen as a form of plagiarism – especially where not credited.   Now, most food bloggers I know credit the original source when re-posting a recipe and use their own words when it comes to describing ‘how to’ – so why do I still feel weirded out by it?  In part, I think, it’s the issue that, unlike other art forms, cooking does not have as strict laws concerning its propagation unlike art and history:

1. The literal text of a recipe is automatically protected by copyright, as are photographs.

2. One can protect the name of a dish, like a brand name, as long as it is not simply descriptive, like ravioli aperti.

3. One can protect (part of) a procedure to prepare foodstuffs, if original, by patenting it. This may be done by industries using special machines, etc.¹

The list of ingredients could be protected by copyright through the surrounding rights that is as a compilation or table. The list will have to conform with the requirements of originality, that is the author or copyright owner must show that she exerted “labour, skill and effort” and that the recipe is not merely: “automatic and only requires painstaking accuracy”. However, the originality criterion would be very difficult to surpass, this is particularly the case in the EU were arguably the standard of originality is much higher than that in the UK.²

So, you can protect your personal text and images but not ingredients lists unless you can really prove there’s a high degree of originality and even then, not likely.

This is where I start to see a big divide, though, between amateur cooks and restaurant chefs – especially those at the ‘forefront’ of food preparation and design.   For one chef to take a recipe from another and present it as their own, especially where there is a great amount of ingenuity and imagination in having created the dish is bad form but it does happen as mentioned in this article where a young chef took very original ideas from those he worked for and directly copied them, profiting from such behaviour in terms of awards and fame.  Not many people would condone that sort of behaviour, but how often do you see other food in restaurants credited to their creators?  Although some original artists will be lost to the sands of time, others are well known but the recipe and techniques associated therewith are considered common property.

There’s a difference, though, between amateurs and chefs or even between innovating chefs and less innovative chefs.  But, mainly, I’m concentrating on the former since that’s where I reside in terms of interest in the subject.  Amateur chefs often have no monetary incentive to keep a recipe to themselves.  There’s the odd person who won’t pass on their amazing apple pie recipe but, for the most part, people love sharing.   Amongst amateurs sharing seems to be seen as the norm – very few people are stingy with their recipes in the online era and, in fact, many people are positively profuse about sharing their recipes.  Innovation comes from the sharing and blending of ideas amongst the community – not from being forced to innovate through necessity to create one’s own version of certain flavours and looks.   The reason the community is so big and flourishing is, in part, because everyone can grab a recipe and do it themselves, then proliferate the recipe via links or word of mouth.

In the end it really comes down to a moral question:  is linking back to a recipe ‘enough’ credit to the person who originally made the recipe.  Often, if I find the right recipe, I don’t go down the link trail right back to the original progenitor.  By posting a recipe, even in my own words, with my own pictures and my own trials and tribulations alongside, would I be affecting how much traffic went to them or, so long as I’m linking back to them, is my link keeping their version higher ranked within the mysterious land of google search?   How different is it from page scraping sites which repost the text of an article?    Some would argue a lot, and certainly there’s more originality involved in writing it ‘in your own words’ but both have the same effect of taking site views away from the original source.

On the other hand – would I be doing a disservice to the ‘consumer’, the person looking for a recipe, by making them wade through six sites just to find the recipe they want?  Is honesty and linking back enough credit for re-doing a recipe?  After all, that person probably based their recipe on a technique or base they learned somewhere else – so where do you stop?  I am beginning to think that it’s not such an odd thing to post ingredient lists and rewritten recipes on your own blog – so long as they are properly and clearly credited – as it widens the range of a recipe, bolsters creativity and increases the shared lot of the ‘community’.  The other point that Andy brought up when I asked his thoughts on the subject was the fact that, unlike printed books, many blogs eventually go down – especially self-hosted ones.  By having the recipes on multiple sites you are preserving these recipes from disappearing entirely or becoming too obscure for casual searches to be able to find them.

Sources

¹ http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/letter–how-to-protect-a-recipe-food-copyright-not-original-1360450.html

² http://www.lawdit.co.uk/reading_room/room/view_article.asp?name=../articles/20-APR-%282%29-recipes.htm

Further Sources / Reading

http://www.megnut.com/2006/10/keep-recipes-free.html

http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/new-era-of-the-recipe-burglar

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Saturday Soup – Parsnip & Potato with Feta

This week I’ve ventured out into the big wide internet in search of interesting soup recipes rather than staying within my little BBC comfort zone.  Knowing I wanted to use up some leftover potatoes, I took that as a starting point and eventually came across the interesting ‘parsnip & potato with feta soup’ recipe over at taste.com.au.

I was first introduced to parsnip soup by an aunt of mine when we went to visit her – I’d never liked parsnips so I was a bit dubious about the notion of them as a soup but it was thick, creamy and delicious.  My palate has grown up a little since then and I relish parsnips alongside other things I hated when I was younger such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and chickpeas.

The only downside I’ve found to parsnip soup is that it can wear a little bit by the end of the bowl – getting a wee bit cloying because of the rich, thick parsnip flavour and texture.  The addition of the feta takes that away – it’s a nice, sharp, light note alongside the soft, sweet rooty veg.  The portions with this recipe are good too – the recipe is for four and each of those would get a generous portion and it’s easy enough to make with the ‘toppings’ being the only fiddly bit.

I decided to have a small second bowl with dinner – adding some beetroot salsa to the bottom of the bowl instead of the feta on top and it tasted quite nice – having the same cutting effect as the feta had though in a less sour way.  Both the beetroot and the mustard contributed to this flavour explosion and I’m tempted to actually try some sort of parsnip-beetroot or parsnip-mustard concoction.

My aim, next week, is to try to pick a very different soup!  Almost all of the ones I’ve done so far have been creamy or potato-ey.  Perhaps it’s time for a go at the classic french onion soup, or a thai noodle soup?   With the millions of recipes out there, I’m sure I can find something along that vein ;)

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Oh Dear…

It’s been more than a week since my last post and, whilst I refuse to be apologetic about writing at my own pace I do wish I could keep to schedules I make for myself.  However, it’s been a very pleasant and busy week which has kept me away from writing  so I can’t really complain too much or berate myself too harshly.

Wedding

Last Saturday was Scott & Kirsty’s wedding.  It was a beautiful day and everything was perfect – from the picturesque Roman Camp Hotel and it’s surroundings to the touching Humanist ceremony; the wonderful meal to the swingin’ ceilidh.  It was really nice to meet Kirsty’s family and those from auntie Beth’s side whom I’d last met when I was quite young.  The photos I’m restricting to facebook, though – too many people in them whom I don’t wish to expose to the open mercies of the internet via my little spot.  Suffice to say that everyone had a great time and that Andy and I both wish the couple a great deal of happiness in their continuing adventure through life together.  Much love to you both, and thank you for letting us be a part of your big day!

Saturday Soup

So as not to back things up for next week, I’m going to throw my Saturday Soup from last week onto the blog today.  I went for a sweet potato and chilli soup recipe from my usual haunt at BBC GoodFood.

Unfortunately, in the rush of Friday and Saturday, I forgot to take a picture when I first made it and hence had to make do with hastily microwave heated versions.  Unfortunately this is not quite as striking  as I’d have liked ;)  So be it, however, as I’m determined to keep up with and record my souply trials – even those which go slightly awry.

The cheese here is not the Gruyère suggested by the recipe, but Emmental. I was surprised that it actually went rather nicely with the flavour of the sweet potato – I’d never considered them bedfellows and especially would not have thought to put them together in soup – any cheese, that is, not just Emmental.  The soup was tasty and the little kick of chilli with sweet potato always brings out the flavour of it wonderfully but it suffered a little from being overly thick – almost like a watery ‘mash’ than a dense soup. It certainly gave my little plastic hand-blender a run for it’s money trying to whiz it into a smooth(er) soup.

I don’t know how often I’d make this but, given my propensity for having ‘spare’ sweet potatoes it might happen more often than I’d like.  Perhaps I need to try to find another sweet potato recipe!

Also, because it’s been a while since I assailed the blog with kitty pictures here’s one of Sam being uncharacteristicly playful :)

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Saturday Soup – Shallot Soup with Watercress Purée

This soup was plagued with difficulties in the making, which I admit may have somewhat biased me a little against it.  A litany of niggles turned ‘trying out a new soup’ into a severe annoyance – used up the cream I needed for something else, 1/3 of the shallots I bought turned out to be rotten, conflicting recipe instructions and so forth.  I also hate peeling and cutting shallots, even large ones: it just takes forever.

The watercress purée seemed a little superfluous – it had an almost identical flavour to the soup, albeit a litter stronger and with a green note, but there didn’t seem much reason to have it as a topper – you might as well have just added it into the soup… which I think I may do with the leftovers.

All that said, the soup did turn out rather tasty.  It was relatively mild, with mainly a stocky-garlicky taste to it, and very filling for a thin soup.  Making it again, I think I’d just go for onions and cut down a bit on the stock as well as, possibly, adding the watercress directly to the soup just before blending.

A beautiful soup, tasty, but not worth the frustration in making it this time around.  I might try it again another time ;)

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Goodbye, Wee Man

We had some good luck concerning the kitten: we took him to the vets and, lo and behold, he was microchipped!  Totally wasn’t expecting that, but glad nonetheless.  The vet phoned us say they’d gotten a number and address and would phone them and get back to us.  Super. Except… that was two and a half weeks ago.

Just as we were beginning to give up getting a hold of his owners as a lost cause we got a phone call from the vets!  They phoned yesterday morning and by 1 o’clock in the afternoon he was gone.  It was all so sudden it seems surreal – as if he wasn’t ever here.

Apparently, our lack of luck with getting a hold of the owner was due to timing problems (night shift worker) and the owner avoiding phone-calls from someone else thus missing ours, too.  The minute it went to a letter, they called the vet right away – surprised that the kitten they’d been missing for a whole month and a half had suddenly turned up!  Apparently they and their family had been out looking for the wee scamp for weeks, worried because they lived near a railway and land where foxes are known to prowl.  Given he’s such a teeny thing (six months old, would you believe!), it would have been easy for a driver not to see him or a bigger critter to get a hold of him.

Having given up on finding him themselves they realised they hadn’t sent away his microchip form.  D’oh.  Still not sure how the microchip company had him on the database – I can only assume they knew which vet had said microchip and traced the owner that way?  If anyone knows how the system works I’d welcome a possible explanation =)

The other surprise came when we found out he’d come from a good few miles away – in Larbert.  We’d not even thought to phone the vets further afield than Camelon assuming that such a teeny tiny cat wouldn’t have walked very far from home.  When he came to us, he looked a little underfed but not starving.  Given that they’d been missing him for six weeks, we’d only had him for three and he seemed to have not gotten into too bad a condition for his size we all wondered if he’d perhaps been taken from Larbert and brought to Camelon by some (possibly) well-meaning stranger who’d found him – only to run off again.

I had wanted to know what his real name was and found out inadvertently when I mentioned that, on finding him, we’d assumed he was a she.  Apparently this wasn’t the first time as originally he’d been called… Millie.  Hehe.  When the truth became apparent, Millie became Mills – a name which has a slight mischevious tilt, to my mind, and suits the wee man well – though I’ll probably always remember him as Cai =)

The place feels rather quiet without him and whilst I won’t miss him trying to eat everything (including my plants) I will miss the wee scamp being a cute addition to the family and generally adding some random to the house.

Sam, on the other hand, with probably be wholly relieved to see the back of the kitten.  Though I do think he was growing on him.  A wee tiny bit. Maybe. ;)

G’bye Mills

Miss ya, wee man.

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Radical Radishes & Curried Kittens

I’ve been trying to keep to a schedule for writing here  but with my big cousin’s stag party at the weekend… well, lets just say that I was still trying to recover on Monday.  It was a great night, though, and I’m looking forward to his wedding in a couple of weeks time.

Today I was ready to blow the cobwebs away and raring to get out in the garden.  I wasn’t going to allow a torrential downpour bit of drizzle stop me from getting out there.  That’s what wellies and big leather gloves are for, right?  Today’s task was finally getting rid of the radishes.  When I first grey radishes, hoping for little, lovely, salad bowl crunchies I failed miserably.  I could get them to the right size, shape and crunchiness, even but the taste was just horrid.  Not sure where I was going wrong, but the upshot was too many radishes I didn’t want to eat!

So, having heard that radish seed in many ways approximates mustard seed, I figured I’d leave the ones which were left in the ground and see what happened.  For a start, the bees loved them – radishes have a profuse amount of flowers and they actually smell quite nice. This is, unfortunately, the only photo I have of them close-ish up:

The  radishes, left to grow, became huge and some even seemed to have started growing secondary tubers further down the root.

As it turned out, apparently the seeds on mine didn’t taste any good either, so I dug the lot out of the ground today to make space for winter lettuces.  Smashing them up to go in the compost, though, I noticed the coolest thing:  some of them had become hollow and were supporting small colonies of critters and beasties – including worms! Click on the images for a closer view.

Not all of the radishes were hollow, but I’d had no idea they would even do this.  Pretty funky stuff.  Cool as they were, though, their upheaval was a must – giving me space for my winter lettuces:

Not a tonne of space but, then, that’s the story of this garden as a whole.  Still, as the season comes to a close, I feel that I’ve really managed to make a decent go of growing things in my long-thin strip of dirt.  It’s been great fun and I’m already planning what I will (and won’t) grow next year.  For the record, the garden looks like so at the beginning of September:

Coming to a slow close, but not done yet!

On a completely different note, below is what happens when you leave an inquisitive, greedy wee kitten in a room with an empty curry bowl:

Yes, he’s still with us, and getting chubbier by the day.  Just look at that round wee belly!

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Saturday Soup – Judy’s White Bean Soup with Chilli Oil

You’re beginning to see a pattern as to where I get my soup ideas, right?  Of course, this week’s one is another BBC GoodFood one – it’ll take a while to plumb the depths of their soup selection even with a few ‘repeat’ recipes.  Still, if anyone wants to throw a suggestion from another site my way I’d totally appreciate it!

This recipe uses butterbeans.  Dried butterbeans: which you soak overnight and then must peel before using in the soup.  To say this is a tedious task is not even the half of it.  However, I looked to the other commenters, who said that it was worth it and, dubious, watched tv whilst popping beans out of their flimsy shells.  All said, it took me nearly an hour – though I wasn’t going at any great speed, if I’m honest.  Still, it was an impressive pile of discards at the end:

At least I have a compost heap to throw them on, too.  Maybe next year I can grow some of my own from that self-same compost =)

The soup itself is thick, tasty, and not over-seasoned.  If you’re used to salt-and-peppering most soups vigorously I’d strongly suggest holding off on this one – it’s got a superb subtle flavour, especially with the chilli oil, which would, I think, be overwhelmed by too much seasoning – especially salt.  It was, as the commenters on the recipe had said, totally worth the effort to make.  A beautiful soup and none too skimpy a portion.  I’m not sure how often I’d make the effort, but it’s certainly a soup I’d make again.  It’s an impressive soup, in looks as well as taste, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to serve up to guests.

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