Catfight in Food Blog Land

If you want an entertaining read, take a mosey over to Alosha's Kitchen to read about her battle with Cook's Country (same folks as America's Test Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated). Apparently she got her hand slapped for running one of their recipes on her blog, and indicating that she made changes to the recipe (I'm not sure which was the bigger offense).

Here's the thing.

1. A list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted. And if you change an ingredient, it's a different list.

2. Directions and methods can only be subject to copyright if they are "substantial literary expression." I tried to find an example of a recipe with substantial literary expression and the closest I came was Anthony Bourdain's Vichyssoise, from his Les Halles Cookbook:
Slowly, and in SMALL batches, puree the soup at a high speed in the blender. Do this bit by bit, never filling the blender too high. Make sure the benders lid is on, and lean on the top when you turn on. If not the burn you will get is awful, and a most frequent accident in even professional kitchens.
OK, it's not Tolstoy, but it is more than just a list of generic steps, which is what you find in most Cooks Illustrated recipes.

3. Most food bloggers indicate the source of a recipe, even if they have made some changes to the recipe. It's not entirely necessary, but it's a courtesy.

4. Even though a publishing company would not have a leg to stand on in court, most food bloggers don't have the resources for a legal fight. Which is probably what the folks from Cooks Illustrated are banking on -- that a snippy sounding woman who waved the "copyright" word around would cause bloggers to back down in fear.

I always liked Cooks Illustrated and wrote about them in a positive light. Now my view of them is less rosy. I respect their need to run a profitable business, but going around and berating food bloggers is a foolish practice because they come across like bullies. I'm not sure I have the cojones to take on a company like that, and that's why I give the Melissa (the blogger) a lot of credit for her post (although I don't think it was necessary for commenters to call the snippy PR person nasty names). So I'm going to spend a few days taking a hard look at any recipes of theirs I've posted and decide what to do about them. I'll also think twice about purchasing from them.


Prudy said...

I read those posts also and I thought it was very interesting. I think as contest cooks we realize that four changes can make a totally new recipe. I don't like any exclusive claims to recipes. Recipes are for sharing! I think the most you can ask for is a reference.

Allie said...

Most bloggers post stuff for the sheer joy of it. Do they not realize we do this for free and spend a lot of time on it? The point is to learn from each other and try new things. I think at least posting where the original recipes come from is the polite thing to do. Makes you have mixed emotions of the companies true motive of encouraging cooks or just making money.

Anonymous said...

Good commentary on the subject, Tracy. I had stumbled across that particular post, too. Very interesting.

RecipeGirl said...

I read that with great interest too. I personally sometimes buy publications or cookbooks based on a review from a blogger. I find it strange that sharing one recipe was an offense. Like you, I now have a negative view of those publications and will think twice before I choose one to blog about... not for fear of getting an email but just because of that whole interaction.

Veronica said...

That's an unbelievable story-I would think that it would be good publicity for them to have bloggers using their recipes. And I'm pretty sure she tested her version before she put onto her blog-she wouldn't want it not to work either! I don't get it.

Emily said...

I read this the other day, but I didn't comment...tired I guess.

I'm not sure what to think. I definitely don't think CI handled it well. I don't see how they can monitor all of their recipes.