Thursday, July 24, 2008

Illegal or Not?

One blogger’s account of the furor that ensued after she modified and published a Cook's Country recipe online…

This Post was written by Sam from Becks & Posh who found it via David Lebovitz on Facebook.


Sarah said...

She made it her own . . . four ingredients different? Sounds like it was inspired by the original to me . . .

DawnsRecipes said...

Sam, thanks for the heads up on that article. It was very entertaining! Heck, I think all of us have done our share of "inspired by" recipes. It's just the nature of recipes. By giving them credit, she's giving them free advertising. Their absurd reaction has had a negative impact on my opinion of them at any rate.

McAuliflower said...

yesh- I'm negatively impacted too. I'm gonna sleep on this one before I write a letter to their various contacts...

lisa said...

Wow. I was never a big fan of Cooks Illustrated, etc., and now I have another reason to not bother with their publications. I choose not to re-print any recipes taken from other sources. I just link to them and then write about any changes I made. But, there are so many recipes out there, CI is a bit ridiculous to take the position they did. They should work a little harder on their brand and image instead.

Anonymous said...

This, from a PR person? ATK has always struck me as cooking at its most anal and joyless. But this goes far beyond that. If they are so worried about their precious recipes why do they make them available for free on their web page?

You changed four ingredients out of approximately ten, it's no longer theirs! To argue otherwise is to imply that they own the rights to potato salad in any form. Hopefully the Veal Marsala people will start threatening CI/ATK.

This PR person has succeeded in taking good publicity and turning it to bad. Brilliant!

Lulu Barbarian said...

Wow, this is beyond belief. I actually do really like CI, and I wish they would respond. I've thought about posting several of their recipes that I make regularly, but it seems that it would be best to give them no credit if I do so. Bizarre!

Barbara said...

For me, this is yet another reason to loathe the Cook's Illustrated family of publications and the producers thereof. Their arrogant writing style and degrading tone when they write about ethnic foods is bad enough, but I guess it is just the tip of the iceberg. It looks like it isn't just the writers who have a superior attitude and tone--this incident betrays a generalized arrogance which gives me dyspepsia.

I generally can't stand their recipes anyway--for ones that have been tested over and over, they are pretty bland and frankly, do not always work as advertised.

However, they are so in the wrong on this issue that it has inspired me to want to use one of their recipes, and modify the hell out of it in order to make it edible, post it and then email their publicity department to inform them that I have done so and that I will not remove it from my blog because, frankly, they cannot make me do so. Once a recipe is modified, it is no longer their intellectual property. A list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted and the only way the method of a recipe can be copyrighted is if it contains passages of significant literary merit, which one cannot say about the CI-CC-ATK recipes.

The ill will among people who might otherwise patronize their products generated by this debacle is amazing.

But what is more amazing is the arrogance displayed by this publishing group.

Anonymous said...

Just curious - has anybody bothered to verify the story with Cook's Country? While Alosha seems to be on the up-and-up -after all, it is the internets...let's not forget the Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe "scandal."

Sam said...

I think the thread and comments it roused, raises some other interesting questions, regardless of where our sympathies lie.

#1) Is it ethical to reprint the contents of a private email conversation online? [I don't think it is wise, personally, I would hate and don't expect my email conversations to become public without my permission, she says, heading of to add a disclaimer to her email signatures].

#2) Is it a good idea, as a commenter, to start calling people who you don't actually know by uncouth names? [I read the words 'bitch' 'beeyotch', 'prick''EFFING BITCH', 'whore' etc]. I would think an argument is more compelling if it doesn't stoop to the name-calling level and I actually felt a little uncomfortable reading some of the responses because of the language used. Not sure if libel or slander is a consideration in these circumstances because its been a good few years since I studied those laws.

#3) As foodbloggers, publishing online, we owe it to ourselves to understand the implications of copyright laws in the context of our hobby. They have been discussed on this blog many times. Had Alosha known the law from the start, she could have put an end to the matter succinctly in email response #1 as she would have known that the magazine was just trying to pull a fast one and scare her into submission and removing the recipe. I am not blaming Alosha, I am just suggesting in future we all wise up to this kind of thing so we know where we stand.

#4) What was the magazine thinking? By crediting and linking to the magazine in her modified recipe on the blog it is unlikely that they would have lost any of their customers. If anything, they might have gained one, two, a few. But now - because of their small mindedness - they have surely lost a small chunk of people who might otherwise have supported them.

Barbara said...

I agree that knowing about the rules of copyright on recipes would have saved the whole thing from going as far as it did, which is why I have talked about these laws on my own blog and elsewhere.

And yeah, folks in the comments section calling the PR person involved "bitch" and other less than flattering names isn't really nice and it does lower the tone of the conversation a bit.

On the other hand, what said PR person was doing was engaging in harassment via email. She probably knows the law regarding copyrighting recipes as well as you and I do, but that didn't matter--she tried to intimidate someone out of the blue into not posting about her experience with a recipe. (Which is a good bit of what we write about on food blogs--our experiences in the kitchen with recipes. Telling a food blogger not to write about that is a little like telling a cat not to wash her whiskers--it is just what they do.)

One could easily see the way in which the PR person engaged in her attempted intimidation as well, bitchy. Hence, the use of a less than flattering moniker....

I don't know. I usually tend to play pretty nice on my own blog and most everywhere I go online, while in real life, when I am speaking, I am more--oh--outspoken and uh, colorful, yeah, colorful, in my expressions. Especially when I am in the kitchen at work.

So, because I lead this double life (polite blogger by day, potty-mouthed chef by night), I can see why people expressed their anger the way that they did. Not nice, no, but then, what the PR person did wasn't nice either--attempted intimidation using lies is neither admirable or ethical behavior, in my book.

That said--I wondered about the use of the email exchanges myself. I know I have read somewhere about copyright laws governing the use of private email exchanges in blog posts, but I can't remember where, nor can I remember what exactly the upshot of it all was. I -could- look it up right now, but I will wait until tomorrow to do so.

The kitchen was busy tonight, and so I am now sleepy.

Good, thoughtful points, Sam--thanks for bringing them up. I am still ruminating on some of your questions.

Anonymous said...

Sam I agree with the last three of your comments, however disagree with the first regarding email & privacy.

If you send me an email into my inbox as far as I'm concerned it now belongs to me. They are no longer your private thoughts but those you have shared with someone else. The receiver has as much right to the material as you do.

Take an extreme example, if I received an email threatening my life or the lives of my loved ones would I have to keep it to myself because of privacy concerns? Could the sender legitimately argue that they had been wronged because I shared the contents with the police? Hardly.

I suspect that legally when the email hits another person's inbox it becomes theirs to do with as they wish. You control your privacy up to the point of sending it to someone else. By sending the email you are actively giving that person the information contained within the email.

As the old proverb goes, once two people know a secret, it's no longer a secret.

Sam said...

It would appear that email is copyrighted to the author:

"On an aside, also keep in mind that if you are forwarding a private email that was sent to you, you must get the sender's permission to forward it on to others (or post it publicly). Emails are copyright protected by their authors. Not only that, common courtesy dictates that you should ask the author first if the email sent for your eyes only can be forwarded to strangers or others for which it was not originally intended."

I'll post this up in a separate post.

Sheryl said...

Anonymous - the issue here is re/publication of said email.

Email correspondence is regularly used as evidence in court, and your "extreme example" would definitely justify calling the police in the case of a threat issued via an email medium.

However, publicly posting the contents of an email is where the copyright infringement occurs. The recipient "owns" the email, but not the content.

Silverbrow said...

A couple of thoughts.

First, is there much difference between the email from the PR person, to all the hot-under-the-collar-posts on here about sites scraping/copying content? The intent of use might be different, which I appreciate is all important, but see it from the point of view of the publishers. They might fail to make any such distinction. We like our content to be used in a particular way. They feel exactly the same.

Second, there is no doubt the blogger has made a dreadful mistake and ensured she has lost the moral battle:

- She shouldn't have attributed the content to CI in the first place. Once they complained she should have simply removed the reference.

- She shouldn't have made private emails public.

- She shouldn't allow the type of personal slurs that have been made in the comments. To me, the thing she really needs to worry about is libel.

Mimi from French Kitchen said...

In my opinion, both the blogger and the PR person acted badly. If the PR person really said what she appears to have said, she got way too personal. The long post just screams vengeance.

Bad, bad taste all around.

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

I'm with you in principle on the email privacy issue. but when it's a PR person emailing on behalf of their client in an official capacity, methinks the bar is lower.

And FWIW, I've removed every link on our site to Cooks Illustrated, and added a disclaimer to each edited page with a link to Melissa's site. I also cancelled my web membership to CI (I hadn't taken the magazine in a while); I sent a note to their print editors and web content management, explaining exactly why -- with a link to Melissa's post.

If they still haven't gotten the message, I guess I wouldn't be surprised. But if even half the people who claim they are cutting off their ties to CI/ATK/CC in Melissa's comments section actually follow through, I suspect there will be notice taken.