Friday, February 26, 2010

Food Copyright?

This plagiarism controversy continues to intrigue me, and as a member of the foodie community – who constantly share "secret" recipes and information, I'm curious how the concept of "plagiarism" may apply, and why there's so little ruckus when we print up cookbooks or share recipes and techniques on the Internet.

For example, I've mentioned Alton Brown on several occasions because I am a fan and want to see him do well. The academic writer in me wants to make sure I properly attribute what I've learned from him.

But what about the many cooks and cookbooks that don’t offer attribution? I own a number of cookbooks, and the chocolate chip cookie recipe I see, for example, in about three different cookbooks (EXCEPT Mr. Brown's I may add) is the exact same recipe on the back of the Original Nestlé Toll House ® chocolate chips: The Original Nestlé Toll House ® Chocolate Chip Cookie.

So, perhaps the other cookbooks don't specify that this recipe needs a specific brand of chocolate chip, and there is probably a dozen words that aren't EXACTLY the same in the entire recipe (of about 250 words), but if I saw a 250 word excerpt on a student paper that I recognized, with a brand name changed or erased, and 12 words changed, I would call them on plagiarism, no question. Do not pass Go, do not collect your passing grade (paraphrasing/alluding to Monopoly ® by Parker Brothers/Hasbro, in case you need the citation).

On the Internet, and directly between people, recipes and techniques are passed off with hardly a mention of whichever cook discovered, created, or wrote down the recipe or technique; most times it's not known. Don’t these cooks and chefs deserve the credit? Don’t they deserve the pay?

Should Nestlé (if they originated it) demand payment any time a cookbook or blogger shares a recipe so close it could have been plagiarized? Should they demand credit? Or, if Nestlé didn't originate it, if they took it from an earlier cookbook or cook, did they pay for rights of reproduction?

The Food Culture is a big money-maker right now, and restaurants and prepared food companies are losing money because their recipes and information are freely distributed.

Small, independent bakeries and cafes are losing their livelihood because recipes are free – or as cheap as a magazine – all over the place. On the other hand, the magazines and television shows and books are making money for selling these techniques (and related advertising) developed by pros.

There are plenty of people who will denounce plagiarism as a "crime" with absolutely no grey are; I wonder what they eat or cook. Knockoff brands? Restaurant recipes? Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies? One of the biggest arguments I get from writers and creators, who would have the most to lose when their work is pirated and plagiarized, is that it's hard to earn money as a writer or creator; rent needs to be paid.

I don't have any numbers, admittedly, but I wonder how many independent cooks and bakers are thinking of rent when they hear someone can make the same thing at home… from a recipe they found on the Internet.

Just a thought. J Feel free to disagee.


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