When can you claim a recipe as your own?

Rosemary apricot bars

Last month The L.A. Times published an article that delved into a thorny problem in food editing – who actually owns a recipe? When can you claim a recipe as your own?

In The complicated case of the simple cookie The Times described how a rosemary apricot bar cookie had been declared the winner of a recent baking contest. Several readers wrote in that the same cookie had already been published. And, as The Times explored it further, they found quite a recipe path for the cookie. (They do note that the winning recipe had not been required to be original, so the prize did not have to be returned, and that the winner had previously given attribution for the cookie in her food blog.) However this inspired Russ Parsons, who ran the bakeoff,  to share some thoughts on the question.

Now we’ve always heard that the standard rule-of-thumb is that at least three significant changes (ingredient or technique) to a recipe must be made to take personal credit for the recipe. However, that procedure still doesn’t credit the original source. So we like The Times‘ three approaches to crediting the original source:

“…at The Times, we try to follow  three levels of attribution for our recipes. All recipes that we get from other sources are credited. Most are attributed with “adapted from,” because almost every recipe we run has been changed, even if only slightly, either in testing or copy-editing (this also protects the writer from any errors we might have introduced in the process).

Sometimes in either the developing of a recipe, or in our testing process, we change a recipe more dramatically. In that case, depending on the specifics of the situation, we might go with “adapted from” or we might think it’s better to write “based on a recipe from.”

And sometimes, someone else’s recipe might simply give us an idea for a dish of our own — maybe it’s a particular pairing of flavors, or a technique that we’ve adapted in a very different way. In those cases, we’ll usually write something like “inspired by” or “based on an idea from.”

In short, unless you truly dreamed up a recipe entirely without inspiration, it’s a good idea to give some form of credit – no one loses and everyone wins. And credit goes where credit is due.

(Photo credited to Glenn Koenig, L.A. Times)


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  • wanderlustdream  on  February 10, 2013

    Very good article! I'm always a little irked when I bring a dish to share, and people commend me of "my" recipes, as if they are my ideas and creations. I always tell them the recipe is not mine, and then tell them from where I got it.

    I equate taking undue credit for the recipe to plagiarism. People still don't get it though.

  • Jane  on  February 10, 2013

    You are quite right wanderlustdream – cooks and food writers should always give credit when they use or are inspired by someone else's recipe. I just chaired a panel yesterday at the Cookbook Conference in New York City on this very topic. It was recorded so you can see it at http://www.cookbookconf.com – it is Panel 3 on Day 2. There are several other really interesting webcasts from the Conference for anyone interested in the business of cookbooks.

  • geoff@kupesoftware.com  on  February 26, 2013

    We could've done with that isinght early on.

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