Stirring up trouble

I feel terrible. Last week I was contacted by the editor of a cookbook who asked that I remove a recipe from it from my blog. I’d attributed the recipe and raved about the book, but the editor reminded me that the recipes were copyright and that, essentially, it wasn’t fair to post it. I accidentally compounded the issue by not seeing the comment until the weekend, which resulted in another aggrieved comment, but have since deleted the recipe.

I felt awful about it, but in my defence, this particular recipe had been published online before – by a newspaper with about 250,000 more readers than this blog – which made me feel it was ok to publish it myself.

But it has made me think – how should the food blogging community share recipes from other sources?
I know I feel a bit peeved if I discover someone has ripped a recipe of mine without attributing it, but who really ‘owns’ a recipe?
Are recipes like Facebook photos, available to everyone unless you set barriers to sharing them?
And – this is the really tricky bit – what if you have a recipe which came to you from Great Aunt Doreen, but unbeknownst to you really originated from the Edmonds’ Cookbook, or Larousse Gastronomique, or Jamie Oliver? Is it Doreen’s? Or yours? Or does it still belong to the original recipe writer?
Has this happened to you before? How do you handle other people’s recipes? Should we develop a food blogger’s code of ethics?

I’d love to know what you think – especially if you’ve been asked to take recipes off your site (or you’ve asked someone else to remove ‘your’ recipes). In the meantime, there’s plenty to chew over in this piece about recipe ownership.



  1. February 7, 2012 / 6:03 pm

    That is a very good question. I have it in my head from time to time. First, I have to ask: was my grandma's recipes, that I use, original? Or she copied it from her grandmother? See, with food, somewhere someone already tried it. I post the recipes that I have from my family and friends, and if I use someone's, I give this person a full credit for the recipe but the work in the kitchen is still mine. I hope it helps. Again, very good question!

  2. February 7, 2012 / 6:07 pm

    That's not very nice. 🙁 And, I personally think, a little foolish – I tend not to buy cookbooks without either endorsement from someone I know or having tried a recipe or two – and have bought books solely because of recipes I've followed from blogs.

    My understanding of copyright law (if down to splitting hairs) is that only the specific wording of a recipe can be copyright – so if you tweak a recipe and write it up in your own words it becomes your own.

    Personally I always attribute where I know the source, rephrase recipes so all on my blog are reasonably consistent, but tend to think publishing a recipe and attributing is more likely to make money for the cookbook publisher than cause people to not buy the book.

  3. February 7, 2012 / 6:55 pm

    I know, I wish I knew what the rule were. I once did a blog post on a recipe I found online called "Cowboy Candy". The recipe was for a jalepeno pepper jelly. It turned out cute, I put it in some cute mini jelly jars and it tasted great. I posted it and a few weeks later I got a nasty-gram from someone named "Tuggy Hamzy" which I thought was a joke which in itself and he told me he had a copyright on the name "Cowboy Candy" and I had to remove that name immediately from my blog post. So I did. I changed the name to Jalapeno Pepper Jelly and never heard from him again. It would be nice to know what the real rules are wouldn't it?

  4. February 7, 2012 / 7:08 pm

    It is a good question, and one I've been mulling over myself. Are there any such things as original recipes anyway, when you consider how many people are on the earth and how long the human race has been cooking for? And anyway, if you're anything like me, each time you cook a recipe you tweak it, consciously or subconsciously, so it naturally becomes part of your repertoire and your own cooking story – does the recipe writer own that version of it too, or do you own it? This isn't answering the question, I know, but it's the direction my mind takes me. I do think though that as long as recipes are credited then publishers should see it as A Good Thing, some word of mouth advertising for their book.

  5. February 7, 2012 / 7:10 pm

    I use recipes from cookbooks, magazines, etc. all the time and always always state my source at the end of the recipe. I never pretend they're mine, always clearly stating where they came from. In two years, I've never been asked to take a recipe down (knock on wood). I agree with Mrs. Cake, before I buy a new cookbook, I enjoy checking out blogs to see if anyone has made the recipes and what they thought etc. Sorry that happened to you! I agree, foolish on their part….

  6. February 7, 2012 / 7:30 pm

    Like Rosa said, I'm pretty sure (though I'm not an expert in IP law) there is no copyright in lists of ingredients, though it may extend to the description/instructions. So as long as you write the "written part" in your own words you should technically be fine… that's my understanding, anyway. (Because seriously, for some things – like shortcrust pastry, or mayonnaise, for example – there's not too many different combinations of ingredients you could get! And are we banned from making/writing about those things?)

    Personally I've been slowly starting to make more of my own original recipes on my blog, not as much because I'm worried about copyright issues but more really because I enjoy developing recipes. When I use or adapt something from a cookbook I'll always attribute, and write the written bit in my own words, the way I ended up doing it. I don't know what I'd do if I ended up in your shoes and was asked to take down a recipe – part of me would want to fight it (for the reasons stated above) but I'd probably take it down out of politeness… hmm, tough call.

    And I agree with some of the commenters above – I'm a big buyer of cookbooks and am much more likely to buy a cookbook if I've read about it on a couple blogs and tried out one or two recipes! (Actually that was the case for all my cookbook purchases in 2011.)

    Anyway it can't be fun to get an angry email/comment like that but don't feel too bad about it – probably just an overzealous editor or PR person who's not that familiar with the law, right?

  7. February 7, 2012 / 8:15 pm

    As per the source you linked to "The recipe itself is not copyrightable. The words that you use to describe the recipe are."

    I'm pleased they aren't, because cooking and passing on the knowledge to cook is part of our basic survival and such a huge part of our culture. Borrowing ideas from others and experimenting from there is what keeps culture evolving.

  8. February 7, 2012 / 8:17 pm

    This is really interesting and I've thought quite a lot about this. If a recipe comes from a book or website, I'll blog it and photograph it but not reproduce the recipe – I just add in the link or show readers where they can read it for themselves. But I have been given handwritten recipes from people before and often wondered if they just copied it out of a cookbook. So if they're ok with that, I just publish the recipe and say that I got it from a handwritten note by a friend or relative or whatever. But at least you attributed the recipe and probably got the book a few extra sales too, if we're honest! I have seen some people just copy and paste recipes that are online or in books and they don't attribute the recipe at all. That's much worse, in my opinion.

  9. February 7, 2012 / 9:15 pm

    I think if you're adding value to a recipe, as in telling it in your own words, and describing your own experience in making it, and link to their blog, link to their website, link to amazon to buy the book, I don't see the problem, it's free advertising, but then if the publisher/editor etc have a problem, remove it and leave a not on the post.

  10. February 7, 2012 / 9:22 pm

    After annoying the editor of Dan Lepards "Short and Sweet" book a few weeks ago, I always press the "publish" button with a degree of trepidation (I don't want to awaken the beast again!). Nobody knowingly flouts the law but how can somebody have copyright over a recipe. Would love to have time to debate this but will pop back to your site, Lucy, to see if you can come to a conclusion. Well done for raising the topic.

  11. February 7, 2012 / 9:23 pm

    Wow. You missed a twitter conversation yesterday about just this. Was it Dan Lepards editor by any chance as I think we all received the same thing! Apparently there is no copyright on recipes but there is on method and technique. Which makes sense and goes with your theory about Aunties recipe. I do however think its a bit desperate of him to have done this.

  12. February 7, 2012 / 9:57 pm

    Oh wow. Sorry Lucy. I have never had such a thing but would fully deserve one as I have until very recently just copied recipes onto the blog (thinking it was okay as long as I said where it was from and advertised the book a little). I have seen the error of my ways but I now also find I am not posting so much because I obviously have to be so much more creative to make a post. I actually like to just do a recipe exactly as it stands and only change it if I see a way to improve it after trying the original.

  13. February 8, 2012 / 4:26 am

    What an unpleasant experience for you Lucy. It was quite unnecessary I think!

    Most of what I think about it has already been said by all the comments posted above. My other 2cents worth in addition would be – the editor took things to an absurd level without much thought of the free PR the book was getting nor from the sounds of it, a full understanding of IP laws. Food, and thus, recipes are for sharing. So many dishes/recipes have been handed down generations – whose to say who developed or owned it in the first place! I bet if we went through that particular cookbook, there would be recipes very similar to (if not the same) found elsewhere.

    I'm with with Mika and Rosa – I only buy cookbooks if I've tried one or two recipes out, or read about them in posts by food bloggers I respect and admire.

  14. February 8, 2012 / 8:06 am

    Goodness that seems a little excessive, from what I know Mika & Rosa have hit the nail on the head. Dianne Jacobs' blog has some interesting articles on ethics & who own's what. And other peoples recipes on blogs have introduced me to so many cookbooks that otherwise I just wouldn't have come across….so it really is great marketing for them. There are even groups of bloggers that cook together from cookbooks & post the recipes, like Charcutepalooza last year introducing so many people to Michael Ruhlman's Charucterie, with his blessing 🙂

  15. February 8, 2012 / 12:40 pm

    I have often wondered this. Usually when I post a recipe, I have tweaked it a bit, but always still link back to the original source. I sympathise – it must have been yuck to get that email. Keep up your good work, you have a great blog!

  16. February 8, 2012 / 6:02 pm

    This is a tricky one. It takes a lot of time and money to develop recipes and it can't be pleasant if you think someone's taking away your hard-earned rewards. After all, producing a cookery book isn't cheap – in quite a lot of cases you have a team of recipe developers and testers that need to be paid even before you get to the costs of the book production and distribution itself.

    But I don't think that what appears on food blogs does anything much to damage sales – or, to be honest, to increase sales much either.

    Sometimes honest mistakes will be made with recipes given to you and that's just life, surely. I can think of one recent best-selling book that includes an alleged family recipe that was actually taken from another relatively recent cookbook. (I'm not naming names).

    There are two things that I find difficult to accept, though. First, when an author seems to claim a traditional recipe as their own. You can't claim ownership of a time-honoured cake or bread just because you fiddle around a bit with one or two ingredients. Second, how do some authors get away with claiming other writers' recipes as their own? I've followed the career of one particular author (no, I'm really not naming names) as he or she has repeatedly culled recipes from other sources from Eliza Acton onwards and claimed them as his or her own invention. Mind you, being a celebrity must be so time consuming.

    I'll stop rambling now.

  17. February 8, 2012 / 7:37 pm

    Thank you ever so much for publishing this post Lucy- and for all your readers comments. I too had a request to remove a recipe the other day (I suspect by the same person as you!). I was horrified, thinking I was terribly in the wrong. Since reading a bit more about it, it appears, as the comments here suggest, only a method can be copyrighted. In my own case, for the recipe I was alsked to remove, I'd tweaked the recipe, rewritten it in my own words, given the source and also explained how much I'd enjoyed the book and recommended it! I guess that wasn't enough. Also, I think its always going to be a grey area and its really brilliant to have these discussions and read everyone's opinions- thanks again

  18. February 8, 2012 / 9:10 pm

    I've heard so many people being requested to remove recipes this week – all by the same author. I think this is very short-sighted as I would probably not have bought the book without all the rave reviews. Even if all the recipes were published somewhere online, I would want them gathered in a book. I tend to be inspired by recipes and then change them to suit my own ingredients and tastes. Not sure where that sits in this debate at all.

  19. February 9, 2012 / 4:01 am

    Over my time in blogging I have seen a few storms in teapots about just such this thing. There was one that really seemed to go around the blogosphere in 2008 – the post is down but you can access it at

    The legal position is clear if you look at copyright councils info on recipes – you can take a list of ingredients and rewrite a method (or use the same language if it has no literary merit) but the moral issues are slightly more muddy – I have only refrained from rewriting a recipe once when I have asked a friend who asked me not to.

  20. February 9, 2012 / 12:19 pm

    This hasn't happened with a recipe Lucy but something similar with an image on one of my other blogs. It was a photograph by a photographer whose no longer alive. I found the image just on a google image search and credited it. Then got an email from the estate of the photographer asking me to take it off straight away or arrange to pay to use it. I took it off, apologised and said how much I loved her work. They offered to let me use another image free of charge for a year if I advertised an exhibition of her work. Actually I forgot it's still live! They even asked me to pop in and chat with them if I managed to get to see the exhibition and were really good about it in the end…but it was a bit of a shock at the time…

    Since then I have been very wary of printing recipes unless I've adapted them. Usually mine are a combination of a few. I'm sure I've forgotten sometimes and accidentally printed them. Most of the cookery books that I've bought have clear text on the fly saying that nothing can be photocopied or electronically shared with others so I presumed this meant in blogs.

    I suppose it's because that's where tv chefs make most of their income. I've noticed that a lot of them demonstrate how to make dishes but don't give the exact quantities of ingredients or maybe only some of them. With Sophie Dahl's recipes I try to link them to someone else whose published them like the BBC website, say which page it's on in her book and then paraphrase how to make it.

    I suppose it's like that thing with royalties on musics and lyrics…that nothing is new…and that recipes that chefs take credit for aren't really theirs. I've often made up something new, googled it and then see that someone else has already done it.

    I am really conscious of the issue as the consequences of plagiarism as an artist were drummed into us almost every day at uni.

    I do think though that if I'd written a recipe book I would really appreciate the buzz that people writing on blogs, even using a recipe would bring to it.

  21. February 9, 2012 / 12:21 pm

    ps …yes I think that's a great idea about a food bloggers code of ethics…but what a task…

  22. February 9, 2012 / 6:15 pm

    If I'm using an author's recipe, mostly Jamie or Nigella as you already knew), and the recipe is on the official webpage, I simply link the recipe to that particular page. But I suppose, personally, if the recipe is already 'out there', there's no harm for us bloggers to reproduce it again on our blogs.
    But if the recipe is from a book and cannot be found anywhere online, I feel as long as the author is credited correctly, it shouldn't be a problem.
    But, that's just me. Thank you for bringing up this topic. Great to read everyone's perspective on this.

  23. February 10, 2012 / 9:11 am

    It is not right or legal to reproduce a recipe (and photo) from a book without asking and obtaining permission to the copyright holder (publisher and/or writer). Extracts are given always 'with kind permission from….'. It doesn't matter if you credit the source or praise the book, permission must be obtained first.

    For web material don't write the recipe but put the link, and even if you do a book review (that you can do), don't take any extracts without asking.

    If you like you can reproduce one of my recipes from one of my books, I let you do that 😉 (unless it becomes 30 recipes and then the book publisher tells me off for letting my blogger friends reproducing too many recipes!), but one of my recipes from a magazine, for example, you should ask the magazine publishers too and not me.

    Your aunty's recipes could be copyrighted, ignorance it is not an excuse for the law, save yourself by changing a few things.

    It always pay to stay legal, and it is much safer to be always original.


  24. February 10, 2012 / 9:31 am


    For magazine recipes I meant to write
    you should ask the magazine publishers too and me.
    (and not "you should ask the magazine publishers too and not me", since – in theory, legally I also have the copyrights too, not for the mag, but for the recipe)

  25. February 10, 2012 / 1:43 pm

    As Dan Lepard's editor, could I comment here ? On copyright, there is no copyright in a list on its own, whether it's a list of ingredients or a list of personal names. But when an author or food writer adds their own instructions, interpretation or method, it becomes copyright. However, if all you do is take an existing work and paraphrase it, while the original can be clearly identified, all you have is a "derivative work" which is not copyright and nor does it get you round the infringement of the copyright on the original work.

    But quite apart from the legal issues, there's a moral question here. Doesn't a food writer have the right to decide where their work is published, and how they protect their livelihood ? If a recipe is written or licenced for pubblication in a newspaper, that paper is probably paying the writer for their work. It doesn't give you licence to take it for nothing, and the paper probably monitors page impressions. So if you reprint the recipe, the paper's page impressions fall, and the writer may not get more work. If all you give is a link, then people have to go to the authorised site to read the recipe, the paper gets more page impressions, and feels the writer has attracted readers. So when you cut & paste, you may damage someone's employment. That's not moral.

    Another claim is that cutting & pasting "helps" book sales. If bloggers would agree to stick to a set of say 5 or 6 recipes from a book, that might be true (and please note, print magazines do this). But bloggers don't, they cherrypick, without permission, and a whole book ends up online and out of the author's control. Two further observations arise from that: if cutting & pasting helped book sales, the mushrooming in food blogs over recent years would by definition have meant an explosion in sales of cookbooks. That has not happened. If anything, sales across the sector are substantially down. And secondly, having looked at thousands of blog pages over the years, very few which follow a cut & pasted recipe say "I must go and buy that book". They are vastly outnumbered by posts which either say "thank you for the recipe" (you, not the food writer, please note) or those that just say something on the lines of "looks yummy". But hardly ever "I'm now going to buy the book". So the damage outweighs any benefit.

    I would also note that it's a bit galling to find a recipe pasted onto a site where the blogger either finishes each page with "© [blogger's name]" or "© [name of the blog]", please think about the totality of your actions there.

    What we are encouraging all food bloggers to do is be a bit more original, to rely on your own lovely photos and what you write about your life, to say what you liked about a recipe (or hated!), how you may have adapted it to the ingredients, tools or equipment you had to hand, and what it was useful for. With a link to where the author has chosen to put the recipe, which might be on their own website, in a newspaper, or not online at all – just in a book. But not to publish a whole recipe. Sharing your own stuff is good, deciding you'll hand out someone else's stuff to anyone who Googles and finds your page, isn't really acceptable. One of the above contributors notes that since she's had to be original instead of just cutting & pasting, she's blogged less. But that's the blogger's issue, if you love doing it, do it well and be original, don't just take someone else's content to make your blog look full

  26. February 10, 2012 / 3:47 pm

    I'm sorry you had such an unpleasant experience. I'm no expert on this topic, but these are my thoughts: I nearly always post recipes that I've developed, so I don't have to think of it often. But I do the occasional review of a cookery book and post a recipe from the book. It is always best to check with the author and/or publisher and/or public relations company about the recipe you'd like to post. They will often supply you with the recipe exactly as they want you to post it, including the attribution. (For an example of this, go to my post ) I think part of the idea is that the author/publisher does not want every single recipe in the book put out there. They will sometimes answer your request about a certain recipe by saying: Please choose one of these instead. That way they don't end up with the entire cookbook online. Hope this helps!

  27. February 10, 2012 / 4:40 pm

    I'm with the publicist and Alessandra.

    I write to the author and ask permission. If they say no, there's an end to it.

    You know, hand on heart, if the recipe is yours or not.
    If it's lifted from someone else, then you need permission.

    There are so many recipes out there, I don't see the desperation to use another's material and pass it off in your own blog material.

    I contacted Denis Potter and asked his permission – with a proviso at the bottom of my email that if I heard nothing, I would take that as a no.
    I heard nothing back, and will not publish anything from his Paradiso book.
    On the other hand, I got a wonderful email back from the Artful Vegan Eric Tucker, inclusive of his vegan workshop recipes with a note that said Peace, I could publish all I want.

    It's a matter of respect.

    Respect their work, and respect your own blogging work too.

  28. February 10, 2012 / 9:44 pm

    Nicely put Gill, and the word 'respect' really touched me, as an author, a blogger, and a publisher of other authors.

    For anyone's info: publishers are keener to give recipes (and even photos) out when they are promoting a book (in fact authors give them permission for this ahead), I know a NZ blogger who doesn't even have a food blog and yet he has published great recipes with the original photos and lots of extracts too, all courtesy of the publishers :-).

  29. February 14, 2012 / 5:25 am

    Many years ago our son entered a recipe competition on What Now, the children's tv programme. The judge was Alison Holst, who selected our son's entry as the winner.
    The recipe had been given to us from American friends and it made Peanut Butter cups which were a new thing here at that time – Alison Holst raved about the recipe.

    It has since appeared in numerous Alison Holst books, so she does she now own the copyright?

    A very tricky question


  30. February 21, 2012 / 5:09 pm

    Hello all! Encouraged to write on here as today I was approached by a legal advisor who's first name rhymes with Pan and second name rhymes with Peppered (this will be used when I change the article in question) asking me to remove a post on my blog due to copyright infringement. Although I offered to link back to the book of the author this has been declined. I can see that I've clearly chosen the wrong author for inspiration because Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nigel Slater do not mind me recreating their recipes. So I wonder – is this "chef" threatened? Up until I had found his cake recipe I had never heard of him. I am deeply saddened as this post received very good reception. I will indeed change (not take down as told) my post so that it doesn't mention the method (if you are saying this is where the infringement lies?)but not the photo's to my blog. Those are mine.

  31. April 1, 2012 / 6:05 am

    Wow! I had no idea! I thought so long as you attributed the recipe to which ever publication it came from then copyright wasn't being breached. The whole point of my blog is to have my favourite recipes in one place rather than 50 different recipe books or note pads, guess I've breached copyright on every single post then! Surely posting the recipe and giving the credit that is rightly due to the author is actually helping to publicise their books and therefore help bring them more revenue. Its not like we are publishing an entire book of recipes is it?!?!

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