Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Having copyright issues with your recipes?

Don't Plagarize:  Someone Will Find Out !

By Kathryn Gordon 
CoAuthor with Anne E. McBride of Les Petits Macarons, Colorful French Macarons to Make at Home
Running Press, 2011

Below are answers to recipe copyright questions posed in macaron classes at ICE, The Institute of Culinary Education where Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon teach.  After using some of Kathryn's published material with students, we thought it could useful to learn about recipe copywriting, etc. so other people can avoid troublesome situations.

1. What are the copyright laws pertaining to recipes?

You actually cannot copyright a recipe.  You can’t copyright the ingredient list, the techniques you use, or the explicit instructions you give to describe the technique.

Recipes are exempt from all claims of intellectual property.  However – a reasonable claim of copyright infringement can be made if someone is listing material from your published work if it:  a) includes your head notes; and b) the language from your process is more or less identical.

2. Can a publisher prosecute an individual who republishes a recipe without permission?

No – and it would generally be a very costly process to a publisher.  But you can “shame” the person.  If someone published a recipe without permission on the internet, you can get it taken down off the web.  If someone published without giving credit to the author in print, the author can report the incident to their publisher so they know to be aware of that issue and person.

3. What can an author do to protect their original recipes?

I learned a trick from another cookbook author to always share documents in a “PDF” format.  I realize it’s not foolproof as it could always be retyped from scratch, of course, but modifying the document is more problematic for someone who intends to plagiarize.

If you give out material, such as in classes you teach, you need to always note that the recipe cannot be redistributed or used online without permission.

4. How does recipe reprinting work?  Every time someone wants to reprint of the recipe from a book in another book, a magazine, or in a blog they have to clear it with the publisher?

For any recipe previously published in a book – permission to reprint or use online has to be given by the publisher.  The author does not have the authority to give the permission.  A publisher wants to be aware of these situations regarding how the material is going to be reused because they need to make sure it is correctly attributed, with the correct dates of publication, and where the book can be purchased.  

5. What if I have previously published an original recipe myself, but on the web (maybe through a food blog) and not in traditional print form? 

Then you as the author can give direct permission to someone else, such as to another food blogger, to republish your recipe.  You don't need to go through anyone else.

6. What if someone wants to reprint a recipe in their food blog, or somewhere else online? 
(As an instructor using a variety of recipes from multiple sources, I have noted that the question does come up in classes because nowadays, a lot of students film the classes, take pictures of their products and blog that day about what they produced and sometimes want to share the recipe for the product that they baked in our ICE curriculum).

It’s best for students (bloggers, and everyone else) to get in the habit of regularly obtaining permission from the publisher to share the recipe.  Even if they modify a recipe, they need to write good head notes.  Probably your idea was inspired by someone else. Where did the original idea for that recipe/technique come from?  Make the connection back to that source in your head notes (head notes are often noted under the recipe title to explain the inspiration or provenance of a recipe).

Going through the formality to reprint an actual recipe from another author is a simple process.  Most authors these days have websites and can be reached via Facebook or email.  An author should turn around and put the person making the request in contact with the publisher for formal permission.  

But when in doubt, don’t republish a recipe.  Ethically, the right thing to do is to attribute an idea to its source.  

7. Say you’re a food blogger, and you want to obtain permission from a publisher to reprint a recipe in full?  How does the permission process work?

Someone will contact the publicity department of a publisher, and they are generally happy to give permission for legitimate promotions of their books.   It can give the magazine good material for an article, and helps the author and the publisher sell more books.  A publisher knows they have to “give away a little” to generate sales.  They will also often proof the article, etc. to ensure the recipe is correctly represented without errors.

Below is how one of our macaron recipes was reprinted in Wine Spectator, with permission from our publisher, Running Press:

8. How do editors, book agents and publicists keep aware of what might be published out there in cyberspace and would be considered a violation of the intellectual property rights?

An easy method is to set up “Google Alerts,” like on the name of your book.  You will get a lot of email – but some of it will be legitimate notices that someone has taken one of your recipes.   Publishers are always reading material and “looking” for misuse in the similarities to that of their author’s recipes and procedures.

9.  If you find a violation, what is the most effective way to remedy the situation?  

The power of Twitter is amazing, and embarrassing if someone finds out you did something wrong.  "Shame" is a highly motivational force.

Sometimes though, you track down an illegal e-book and its origin is more robotic or a pirate site than attributable to a person you can make take down the material.  It can be an uphill battle with everything that’s printed and reprinted (illegally) via the internet.  The music industry has the same issues regarding pirate sites downloading material so the musician (author) and producer (publisher) don’t make money.

10. How else has the internet affected recipe publishing?

Authors can correct mistakes in e-books quicker than through the reprint process.  Different publishers do it differently because it costs money to resend a file to all nooks, kindles, pdf readers etc. but there are clear benefits for a consumer to have the information in that format.  Prior to e-books, consumers might have contacted a publisher that a book contained an error but they would have to wait for a physical reprinting if they wanted a copy with the correction. 

In closing:  unless you know you came up with a recipe as an original idea – don’t rip people off.  Make it a habit to contact the person who came up with the material originally (the author) or go directly to their publisher for permission.

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