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Oct 2, 2007 06:57 AM

Recipe Ownership

A co-worker gave me a cookie recipe a few years back. I gave it to a friend. That friend over the last few years altered it slightly. They changed the quantity of two ingredients enough to give the cookie a bit of a different texture and shape. They entered said cookie into a contest and won and is taking credit. Ok foodie friends, have at it.

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  1. Just my .02 cents, considering it is a cookie recipe, most of which are basically the same idea. And considering the fact that they DID make some alterations that you say changed the "texture and shape" I think it is fair for them to take credit as you put it. Not sure of all the surrounding circumstances, but If possible it would be nice if they gave some credit to the original recipe owner.
    Personally, I don't think I would have entered a contest with a recipe I know I basically got from someone else, but who knows how long the 2nd person, played with and tweaked the recipe.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SweetPea914

      If the second person "changed the quantity of two ingredients enough to give the cookie a bit of a different texture and shape" then it is now THEIR recipe. Is the original source for the recipe complaining?

      One cannot "copyright" a recipe. I learned this a few years ago while helping someone write and edit a cookbook.

    2. I seem to recall that recipes cannot be copyrighted and of course that statement requires some explaining. You cannot copyright the ingredients,but you can the preparation information ie;"2 fresh eggs,furiously beat the farm fresh eggs into a whirling lather of whiteness". OK I am not a writer. But my take is 2 eggs cannot be protected,but the prep info is copyrighted. Those that I close? As far as credit goes,if the results are different from the original then it is kind of a new recipe.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Sam at Novas

        Ugh. A sticky ethics issue, more suited for a board game than real life.

        Personally? I would be PO'ed if I were the owner of the original recipe.

        1. re: Sam at Novas

          That's my understanding too -- the ingredients list cannot be copyrighted but the technique can be. That's why you'll often see "adapted from ..." in, say, the NY Times when they run recipes. (Friends and I were going to put together a cookbook and we looked up this information too.)

          Also, to address dolores's point above, if the person used the "adapted from" formulation, perhaps the original recipe holder wouldn't be mad?

          1. re: LNG212

            I believe that in most cases the NY Times "adapts" a recipe to make the description conform to house style or to make a restaurant's recipe something that will be usable by a home cook.. I suspect in most (if not all), the Times is running the recipe with the knowledge and approval of the "originator."

            Sam was right about copyrighting the prep information ... but all you can copyright is the way it is written up. You cannot copyright the technique itself ... you would have to try to patent the actual technique used in the preparation of a dish. I would imagine that if such a patent were issued it would be very difficult to enforce if the recipe were later published.

            1. re: LNG212

              Good to know, since I seldom use a recipe verbatum. I've always shied from claiming total ownership (if someone asks).

          2. Well, in my mind the ethics of the situation depend on quite a few things:
            How significant were the changes? You say the cookie has a different texture and shape. Shape wouldn't be enough change for me to consider it a different recipe, but texture is huge. How simple was the recipe to begin with? If it's a butter/sugar/flour shortbread and she changed the proportions, the cookie is hers - there's only so many things one can do to a shortbread. But if the cookie is a molasses-chocolate cookie with rum-soaked raisins and a chocolate glaze, and what the second cookie-maker did was add an extra 1/4 cup cocoa and an extra egg, then s/he should have referenced the original cookie-maker. Also, where did the original cookie-maker get the recipe? From a grandparent or from Joy of Cooking?

            The simpler the original cookie, the less offended I would be, since small changes mean a lot. I would also be far less offended if the cookie was one I just made a lot and not a recipe I had actually developed on my own.But I probably wouldn't be too bothered anyway - there's only so much variation possible in cooking, a truly original dish is a rare thing indeed. And if the recipe is good, getting some attention for it means more good food in the world, a happy thing for all.

            1 Reply
            1. re: curiousbaker

              Good points, curiousbaker and LNG212, but it's just not something I would personally do.

              Interestingly, if I shared a recipe of mine on the internet and someone took it and won a prize, I couldn't feel badly, could I? I guess it's a matter of caveat recipe owner. Something I had never thought about before.

              Another case in point, a friend gave me a cookie recipe which was different and good. I would never have dreamed of entering her cookie recipe as my own, no matter what changes I made. Now, however, I would even have to think twice about posting it on the internet.

              Brave new world.

            2. Was it a recipe contest, or a cooking contest?

              If it was a recipe contest, no ... They should not have entered someone else's creation as their own recipe.

              If it were a contest where you demonstrate your cooking skills, I do not see why not.

              5 Replies
              1. re: foodmonk

                Yes, it's not just about the recipe, but the skill of the cook, and perhaps a bit of luck too1

                1. re: foodmonk

                  I'll elaborate on foodmonk's question further. Was this a national/regional contest with formal, written rules or was this an informal office contest or the like? Also, was this recipe published anywhere prior to your friend receiving it?

                  The norm in the recipe contest world is first off, read the rules. They're generally very specific about what they consider original or even if the recipe must be original. The rule of thumb is that for a recipe to be considered original it must have at least 4 significant changes from the source recipe. Significant does not mean using 3/4 tsp, cinnamon instead of 1 tsp. cinnamon. Significant would mean the original cookie was chocolate flavored and the new one is banana caramel flavored.

                  Then, was your recipe published anywhere in a book, magazine, website, etc.? If yes, then the new recipe should have been disqualified. If it was a hand-me-down family recipe never printed anywhere before then your friend may not be playing very nice but is not violating any rules.

                  1. re: rockycat

                    rockycat, just a heads-up that those comments are 3 years old :)

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Granted, but all still true. There's a lot of disagreement about what constitutes an "original" recipe and, if anything, the confusion gets worse as the internet replaces print media. The definition of original seems to depend largely on the context.

                      1. re: rockycat

                        oh i agree completely, i just wanted to make sure you knew that your reply to that particular comment might never be seen by the poster :)

                        the issue is actually one that i struggle with here on CH - many Hounds know about my as-yet-unrealized catering/restaurant/cookbook dreams, and i've actually been asked several times why, in light of that, i would give away my recipes for free.

                2. The co-worker "gave" you the recipe. Unless stipulated otherwise, it is now yours to do with as you please, including giving it to a friend, thus making the recipe theirs as well. I say too bad so sad, both legally and ethically (not that I'm an expert on either of those things...)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mercyteapot

                    But given that, now I'd think twice about giving out a special 'family' recipe for example.

                    I thought of something while reading this -- at a work Christmas party years ago, one of the employees brought in a baklava that was very good. When I asked her for the recipe, she said to me 'oh no, I can't give it to you, I'm going to sell my pastry'.

                    So again, unless I can point someone to a website from where I've gotten a recipe, SeattleJim has given me something to think about.

                    1. re: dolores

                      Yes, it does make one understand a little more why some people don't want to share recipes. Unfortunately, there's been no special award winning recipe passed down on either side of my family, or in dh's either, so I've not been faced with that dilemma.