Could your recipe posts be considered 'piracy'?

Does this sound like you?

You start blogging and post a few favorite recipes.  Maybe your smoothie, your oatmeal, your wrap.  But pretty soon, those run out, especially if you do most of your cooking from cookbooks.  You're cooking tasty, healthy food every night, and you want so badly to share those recipes (that aren't yours) with your readers.  But should you?

The short answer is no.  While it's not possible to patent the actual recipe, you're still stealing intellectual property, the writing, when you post a recipe word-for-word (even if you give the author credit).

How bloggers get around the law

The simplest solution, one that's ethical and still provides some value to your readers, is cooking recipes that you find online and linking to them.  Posting your own picture of the food and telling your readers about it removes a lot of their risk in cooking a new meal; they see that a "real person" cooked the meal, enjoyed it, and didn't blow up her kitchen in the process.

I see bloggers employing a (slightly sneakier) method for sharing a recipe that isn't online — adapting the recipe.  When you change a few ingredients and reword the recipe, you're probably doing enough to get around the piracy laws (not to be taken as legal advice, by the way).  But here's the problem with this: Authors hate it! Not only is it very close to stealing, it also affixes their name to a recipe that's not exactly as they intended it.

You probably have the decency to credit the original cookbook author when you adapt one.  But don't think that just because your blog is small, nobody's noticing that you "adapted" their recipe.  Just like everyone else these days, authors and publishers have Google alerts in place that tell them whenever their name or book is mentioned on the web.  Even if your blog has fifteen readers, someone is noticing your adapted recipe.

The best solution

You know that old saying "Honesty is the best policy?"  Well, it's a saying for a reason.

The best thing you can do is email the author (or publisher, if you can't find an email address) and ask if you can post a few recipes.  Often they have rules that allow bloggers to post three or five recipes, exactly as they appear in the books.  Sometimes only specific recipes are allowed; other times you're free to choose.  A few especially nice ones will grant you permission to post as many as you want!

Simply write a nice email telling them a little bit about your blog, and politely ask.  The worst they can say is "no."   (And if you're really bitter, you can blog about that.)

Posting recipes from books, citing the source, and writing "posted with permission" alerts your readers to the fact that you're providing them with something of value.  Something they can't get for free anywhere else.  You can even post a few affiliate links to say, Amazon, and earn some money when they decide to purchase the book after trying a few of your recipes.

The best part: When you email an author, you establish a relationship with him or her.  Authors tweet about your recipe posts.  Some offer to do interviews.  One such interview led to a publisher's adding me to their mailing list for reviewing their new vegetarian cookbooks.

Good things happen when you tell the truth.  It never hurts to ask.

20 Responses to Could your recipe posts be considered 'piracy'?
  1. Mellissa
    March 10, 2010 | 3:29 pm

    Thanks for posting this, I always link to the recipe if I found it online but wanted to make sure I was giving credit where it was due!
    .-= Mellissa´s last blog ..Fog =-.

  2. brandi
    March 10, 2010 | 4:15 pm

    Great tips. I have contacted authors before to ask permission, and have established a good relationship with one because of it.

    I do always try to link and/or name the source if I made a recipe that wasn't mine OR used one as inspiration.

  3. Megan (The Runner's Kitchen)
    March 10, 2010 | 7:11 pm

    Good article! Awhile back I was sent a copy of a cookbook to review and when I asked to publish a recipe I had to sign a release form and agree to remove the recipe from my blog after 7 days. The publishing house was SERIOUS about copyright infringement. I'm glad I didn't just go ahead and post without asking…

  4. Alison @ finnyfinds
    March 10, 2010 | 11:24 pm

    I'm really glad you posted on this topic. In fact, I'm glad you started this particular blog page. I'm learning that I have made just about every possible beginning blogger faux pas! Would rather learn these things now than later … thank you!
    .-= Alison @ finnyfinds´s last blog ..Epic Bruise, Epic Find =-.

  5. Carrie (Love Healthy Living)
    March 11, 2010 | 10:38 pm

    Great post and very much needed. In your research on this subject, did you run across any guidelines for how many ingredients or adaptions one must make before it's considered your own recipe? For instance, if I take a common recipe like hummus and make 2 or 3 changes, then it can really considered my own recipe. What do you think?
    .-= Carrie (Love Healthy Living)´s last blog ..Slow Cooker Pot Roast =-.

  6. NoMeatAthlete
    March 12, 2010 | 7:49 am

    Carrie, from what I could tell, there aren't firm rules (as with so much of the law, it's subject to interpretation). Technically speaking, since you can't patent a recipe, you can probably legally get away with not adapting the recipe at all, as long as you put it into your own words. But please note that I don't recommend this, and I don't even think "adapting" recipes is right, unless you have a legitimate reason to adapt them (food allergy, for example). You should just adapt it for the purpose of skirting copyright infringement issues.

  7. Carrie (Love Healthy Living)
    March 12, 2010 | 4:44 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you that an adaptation is sneaky unless you get permission from the author/publisher to do so. If something hasn't been published on the internet, then it's not fair to basically publish it with a few changes. Food for thought.

    .-= Carrie (Love Healthy Living)´s last blog ..Slow Cooker Pot Roast =-.

  8. melinda
    March 16, 2010 | 5:08 pm

    I have alot of cookbooks, and cook alot using it and make my adjustments. Can I still post the recipe (my adjusted) and in the text says "adapted from ……" The cooking picture is mine of cos, is this legal?

  9. NoMeatAthlete
    March 16, 2010 | 5:35 pm

    Melinda, as far as I know, it's legal if your adjustments are substantial and you're changing the wording. But I must emphasize that I really don't know for sure, that's just what I've read, so don't take this as legal advice. And two authors have told me that they really don't appreciate when people do that, so I don't do it anymore. I think you're better off asking them.

  10. Plantain and Pinto Stew from Veganomicon
    March 24, 2010 | 9:51 pm

    [...] to post his or her recipe, I'm careful not to change it (see a Health Blog Helper post about posting recipes to understand why).  But with tomatoes not yet in season and one of the worst out-of-season [...]

  11. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)
    March 26, 2010 | 11:30 pm

    Matt, awesome post and one of my readers told me about this post and I have you in my googlereader and admit I saw this post, skimmed it and meant to come back to it forgot to. I just posted about this same phenomenon today, which is how a reader told me about this post

    Here's my post, the hot topic is at the bottom of the entry if you care to read my thoughts. I totally think your post is right on target and i addressed the blogger "but I tweaked it to make it my own" line of thought. i.e. omitting 2 tbsp of chia seeds in a 17 ingredient recipe is NOT making it your own kids :)
    .-= Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)´s last blog ..Snacks, Clothes, & Hot Topic Friday: Crediting Recipes =-.

  12. Amanda
    March 27, 2010 | 8:47 pm

    Thanks for the advice, Matt; awesome stuff! What do you think about book reviews? Can you post a review without getting permission? What about a picture of the cover?

    Thanks in advance. :)
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..On Prep (Not the School) =-.

  13. Aaron Van Gossen
    March 29, 2010 | 9:28 am

    I'm so glad I found this article. I did e-mail one person about getting permission but they never got back to me. I'm not sure if that means 'yes' 'no' or 'Hell No'. I've been giving credit to where I got my recipes along with Amazon or website links to where their books can be found hoping that was enough, but I guess not. I'll make more of an effort to get in touch with the author's from now on.

  14. NoMeatAthlete
    March 30, 2010 | 4:04 pm

    Aaron, that's very strange that they wouldn't get back to you. Yeah; I think simply reprinting a recipe and linking isn't enough from a legal standpoint, since it's copyrighted material. But in many cases, authors might not mind as long as you link. I prefer to play it safe and get permission.

  15. NoMeatAthlete
    March 30, 2010 | 4:08 pm

    Amanda, I believe that book reviews are totally fine. Not sure how much content you could post from a book without permission, but surely you can mention the title of a book and review it. I've wondered about the cover thing too. It would be very weird for an author to get upset that you posted the cover image of their book, and many welcome any reviews at all, even if they're not good. Wish I had a better answer on this one.

  16. Marissa
    March 30, 2010 | 7:20 pm

    I completely disagree with you. Recipes are rarely if ever original. It is nearly impossible 9to the point where I would actually say impossible) to prove that someone was the FIRST to ever come up with a specific recipe. This is why recipes are NOT copyrightable. The only thing you can copyright is the DIRECTIONS for using the list of ingredients. Recipes are based on the ideas of others, they are rarely if ever original. And even if they are, prove that the recipe has never been done before. People have their panties in a bunch over this and it is JUST COOKING. It isn't rocket science, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out a recipe.

  17. Debbie
    April 1, 2010 | 11:52 pm

    Wow! I think the post is great, and the variety of responses are also great, for both view points. I do believe that most basic recipes would be impossible to prove who truly has ownership. It can be very easy to come up with your own version only to find out it is much like others posted. That doesn't mean you have stolen the idea. However, there are some recipes that are obviously originated by others, and credit should be given to them. As for changing up ingredients, it can go either way. I think people have to be realistic, sensitive, honest, and reasonable when posting recipes – original, borrowed, rewritten, "stolen", or shared…and do their best to present the recipe in the most appropriate way under the circumstances. It's a tough call! I personally have seen the same basic recipes for raw foodist in almost every raw food book I have (at least 50 books, ebook and paperback) that have the same recipes, with maybe a different name, slightly different ingredient list, or prep procedure — but seriously all the same. I'm not excluded from that. Maybe it boils down to "presentation" – it can be everything?!

  18. Erin
    April 26, 2010 | 4:12 pm

    Yea I am guilty of this. I always try to say "adapted" but sometimes I just copy word for word. I do link whenever I can though. I will definitely have to start emailing authors! thanks for the tips
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..CONTEST GIVEAWAY! THE MAGIC BULLET! =-.

  19. Cheddar Biscuits | missaliisa
    January 6, 2011 | 8:33 pm

    [...] I want to post this recipe so badly!!  But it didn't seem right to me that Todd Wilbur writes these amazing recipes, and others post them online for all to see.  If you care to know what I'm talking about, follow this link: Could your recipe posts be considered 'piracy'? [...]

  20. Deena
    February 17, 2011 | 5:17 pm

    Great article! From my perspective, I'm actually flattered when I find my recipes are liked enough to be included in quality, informative blogs. But of course, proper credit is expected. Matt is absolutely correct when he wrote about "authors and publishers having Google alerts in place…". My company uses them often.

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