Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Adapting vs. Butchering

Much has been discussed about copyright issues with respect to posting recipes, but I have a question that comes at it from a slightly different angle that I've not seen addressed here.

Quite a few of the recipes on my blog are adapted from books or other sources. I do cite the original source, and paraphrase the instructions in my own words. Ingredient substitutions are generally what I consider to be minor (e.g., instant yeast instead of fresh). Sometimes I explicitly state what departures I have made from the original, but more often than not I don't, as I feel this would be cumbersome to read and detract from the post.

It has occurred to me that the creator of the original might view my "adaptation" as a thorough butchering of the recipe, and be offended to have his or her name associated with it. Since I believe the paraphrasing puts me on solid ground as far as copyright infringement goes, maybe I should avoid crediting the original sources altogether. But this just feels wrong.

Note that this is a purely hypothetical concern, because I'm sure none of these people pays any attention whatsoever to what I put on my blog. Even so, I'd be curious to hear thoughts. Do I need to find a different reason to lie awake at night?

This Post was written by Susan from Wild Yeast.


PaniniKathy said...

I think you should be able to sleep soundly! :-) I don't know all that much about copyright law, but as someone who writes original recipes I know that I would appreciate a shout out if someone were to modify a recipe I'd written. I think the concern about "butchering" might be mitigated by explaining where you deviated from the original, which you indicated you already do sometimes.

Sarah Caron said...

I do a lot of experimention in the kitchen, but occasionally do more traditional things with help from recipes. Sometimes they are inspiration, sometimes I follow them.

My rule of thumb is How close am I to the original? If I have made several substantial substitutions -- like added and subtracted ingredients , changed quantities, etc, then I leave out the adapted line (I always rewrite directions). If I follow the recipe or make only minor changes like you said, I say it was adapted -- and try to note my changes.

Definitely not something I would lose sleep over. It doesn't sound like you are butchering.

aftertastesherry said...

I understand that uneasy feeling you have about not including the original source, even if you don't believe the recipe writer will ever know. I think it all depends on how closely you're sticking to the recipe and if you are literally changing the word "stir" to "mix" and "hot" to "very warm" and doing so with the intent of merely avoiding copyright infringement, then I think it would only be right to include the original source somewhere. On the other hand, if the original recipe was merely a basis for your recipe where you actually changed some (not necessarily a ton, even if it's just a few) ingredients, cooking times, or techniques, then I think it's okay to leave the original source out. It's all about intent. Just my opinion!

davidL said...

Very good article, which addresses this issue: Can A Recipe Be Stolen?

Susan said...

Thanks for the helpful input, everyone. I guess in most cases it just comes down to a judgment call.

For future reference, if anyone makes a sourdough bread recipe from my blog, only substituting vinegar plus yeast in place of sourdough starter, please feel free NOT to credit me with the recipe. :)

Rev. Biggles said...

I go out of my way to butcher the recipe and see how far off I can get. A recent post of mine I cited Elise's Beef Stroganoff recipe, simple enough. But the little market I bought my ingredients from didn't have mushrooms. So, I substituted jalapenos. No American sour cream, so I used El Salvadorean creama (not too far off the mark I suppose). It's what I aim for.


Kalyn said...

I think even if you're changing the recipe quite a bit (Hi Biggles!) it's always nice to provide a link to the blog where you got the idea. If I'm just changing a few things I usually say "adapted from." If I'm really changing the recipe a lot I will say "inspired by."

Ellen said...

I think you'll need to find other things to keep you up at night. ;) But I like the "inspired by" and "adapted from" idea of Kaylyn. I most often seem to find 5 recipes that all have differences and end up picking and choosing what sounds good that night. But if I have followed a recipe pretty closely, rewriting directions always, I typically credit the book or magazine.

Sam said...

For me this is a moral question rather than a legal one. (It seems to me that you can too easily get past any legal issues associated with this question). I think too many people copy a recipe, change one or two ingredients. Rewrite it slightly then publish it on the web as if it was their own. I may even have done this myself in the past and then spent many sleepless nights worrying if what I had done was fair. Cookbook authors have a living to make! And as people who love cookbooks we should be encouraging people to support the livlihoods of the cook book authors we love rather than screwing them for a cheap moment of glory on our blogs.

Should every influence be clearly cited? I think so.

Is there a difference between ispiration and adaption? Absolutely.

Would it be fairer to outline how much you have adapted a recipe before re-publishing it? Absolutely.

If you like the recipe(s) you are using from a certain book should you encourage your readers to buy the book itself so the author whom you love can be rewarded with success in his/her working life? That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Examples of how I have tried to address this issue myself and have less sleepless nights:

Loving the recipe and giving a shout out to the book

Make the recipe at least 3 times, write extensive notes and margin notes, write entirely in your own words and still give a big shoult out to the book citing all the other people who have used the same book successfully

write about the Perfect Scoop not once, not not twice but three times without copying/adapting or republishing any of them. When you know the author personally (as we all do know David to some extent), and when we know that author MIGHT ACTUALLY BE READING OUR BLOG, we might not be so quick to reprint his recipes, might we now?

How about you think of every recipe you want to republish like this: "This recipe is written by my very good friend who makes his living from selling recipe books. I don't want to discourage people from buying his books because I would like him to be successful in his job so that he earns a decent living."

Maybe if you ask yourself that question when you want to post a recipe, the answer will be clearer. There is no shame in having a level of integrity that causes you to ponder these questions. And just because something is legal or not, that doesn't mean it will sit easy with your own personal set of life values. Only you can make the decision about what you think is the right and wrong way to behave.

Good luck.

Sermon over.

Susan said...

I completely agree this is a moral issue rather than a legal one. My question came from a place of wanting absolutely to do the right, ethical thing. It was not intended as a smug declaration of how I might escape the technicalities of the law by changing a thing or two and calling a recipe my own, although in retrospect I can see how my words might be construed in that light, and clearly I could have chosen them more carefully. Even so, characterizing me (or others who post "adapted," "inspired," etc. recipes on their blogs) as "screwing [authors] for a cheap moment of glory on our blogs" seems a bit harsh.

Of course authors deserve to earn a decent living from their work. Does having their recipes posted on our blogs help or hurt that? I respectfully submit that, on balance, it helps. I have bought a rather large number of books (David's included) not in spite of, but because of, seeing one or more interesting recipes on blogs that have piqued my interest in the author and the book. In fact, I am more likely to buy the book if the blog post about the dish includes the recipe itself, rather than the advice to go buy the book if I want it. I have never once thought of not buying an interesting book simply because a few its recipes could be found online. Nor have I been turned off a book explicitly because of a blogger's inexpert execution of one of its recipes. And based on discussions with blog-reading friends, I don't believe I'm in the minority with any of this.

For what it's worth, I also don't think that whether or not someone is a personal friend, or even whether or not they make a living from publishing their recipes, is relevant to what is or is not ethical in terms of respecting their work.

In citing a source (book, blog, school, or other), I want to highlight that source as one worth paying attention to. I want to inspire people who read the post to get the book, read the blog, take the class. I try to do this not only by linking to or otherwise crediting the source, but by presenting my interpretation of the recipe as appealingly as I can. And if I do that successfully, then I really think I am acting both legally and ethically. I acknowledge that we may have to agree to disagree about the latter.

That said, "appealing" and "successful" are of course subjective calls. The changes I make to a recipe are not token ones intended only to get around any legal or ethical question about plagiarism. They reflect my own baking and writing style, just as the sources I cite reflect the authors/bloggers/teachers who have, in turn, interpreted the creations of others before them. Nonetheless, if I credit a source it is because the gist of the recipe, to my mind, is true to the original. But "gist" is also subjective, and my worry here was that I may sometimes, albeit inadvertently, not adequately capture that gist.

The sentiment behind my post was that I would never wish to offend by saying "This is Chef X's or Blogger Y's recipe" if my interpretation is not something that X or Y would like to be associated with. That's all. It came from a place of genuinely wanting to act with integrity.

kazari said...

thanks for posting this question - it's something i think about a lot. generally i mention my source or inspiration, no matter how far away my own version ends up. but if i've followed a recipe exactly, i'm more likely to link (or cite) without posting the recipe.

zoe said...

sounds like people are pretty much on the same page: give credit to the source out of both courtesy and respect for their work. re: recipe source getting upset about a perceived 'butchering', a) everyone seems to be up on acknowledging changes they make, and b) isn't that what cooking (and sharing the experience via our myriad of blogs) all about? e.g., seeing what other people cook/eat, experimenting with what we cook/eat, letting others see in return...

also agree that part of the interest is seeing where people get their inspirations and who they enjoy reading/cooking with vicariously, AND what their personal preferences and cooking styles are (do they take the same short-cuts as me? make the same substitutions? have the same pantry items?)

nika said...

Susan: I totally didnt get that vibe from you .. maybe I am wrong, but I read your concern that you might be some how damaging the "author" of the recipe by not doing it any favors by your adaptation, photo, etc.

I am not sure how it was misread (or if it was? - not my place to say) but I did want you to know how I read your original comment. I am a relatively rational person and I am sure that most people would have gotten the same message - never that you were being ego-istic and such.

I think its important to keep a sense of humor and perspective, especially when blogging because this most CERTAINLY NOT brain surgery nor testimony under oath before congress (as if that really means much anymore).

Having worked in biotechnology intellectual property law, I have a sense of perspective for how and when to protect the family jewels. I also have learned what is novel and non-obvious.

There is a good reason that recipes are not patentable - they are not really novel and not non-obvious. Nor are they enabling in any "real" sense. They fail all the tests for patentable intellectual property.

They fall under copyright only in that they comprise some art in the telling (the way the author prefaces it and describes the directions) - the list of ingredients are settled as not protected.

So do ones ethics derive from the IP basis or some other sense of "propriety"? If the latter, then the gray area is so vast that its really hard to discuss. Its rather like talking about religion - some feel passionate about it and its not based on fact but rather emotion. Its best to try to come to some resting place for one's self but its always bad form to impose it on others.

I also think that for people who NEED black and white - the whole recipe thing will always feel too gray, too NOT black and white to get any absolute feeling of resolution.

That would be where the sense of humor and perspective comes in.

Sam said...

Susan First sorry for not responding sooner - I have had a bad weel at work and haven't been online much. Second sorry for thinking I was getting at you - not the intention - I agreed with you entirely. You asked for opinions, I thought I was being supportive of you - sorry you took that as a personal attack.

I think you read me wrong - clearly I am unable to communicate very well - I thought I was on the same page as you too. I wrote that piece solely as my own opinion/my own position on this issue and when I used the word 'you' which I guess is where the misunderstanding came from it was meant in a general way, not targeted at you or anyone in particular. Next time I will try and remember to use the word 'one' or 'me' instead of 'you'.

Because all I was really doing was sharing with all of you the thoughts/conversation that goes on inside my own head. It's like me talking to myself on a page.

I think I better stop posting on this blog. People here don't seem to understand me and I just end up upsetting everyone all the time which is never my intention.

Susan said...

Nika, thank you for articulating my concern so much more succinctly than I managed to. You are absolutely right that maintaining perspective and humor are essential, and living in the gray area is something I need to work on being more comfortable with.

Sam, thank you for the clarification. I'm sorry I interpreted your words with the same ungenerous spirit in which I was thinking you had interpreted mine. I do hope you will not stop posting here, as I always find what you have to say interesting and valuable.

nika said...

Sam: It sounds as if you did have a bad week and I would hope that your earlier sentiment has softened and that you do not abandon your own blog here! Your comment didnt seem directed at Susan but rather at some collective "they" who you feel are ripping off people like David and other friends.

I can say from experience that cookbook publishers and writers and PR people WANT blogs to write about their recipes (with a link back), the power of a review (of any length) can not be underestimated and it grows every day.

The Culinary Chase said...

Personally, if you're one to experiment with a recipe and you have stated where it came from, what's the harm in changing the original? As cooks/chefs, we all tend to borrow from somewhere and let's not forget we are making it to suit our own taste. Some of my recipes have been copied and changed and I am flattered people think they were good enough to re-post! I always include a link to the source. That way the owner will know. Cheers!

kitchenmage said...

OTOH, the article that David linked to contains this: "...if she changes two or three ingredients in a recipe, it becomes her own and requires no attribution."

While this may be technically correct, I can't see not including attribution of original that was adapted or even the inspiration. (And I now understand why this person claims all her recipes are 'original', yeah...)

btw, Susan, please adapt my bread recipes and post them. I'd love to see your take on my stuff. We learned from many of the same writers, after all.

Rachael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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