Cook’s Country – ORLY?

August 08, 2008 By: Megabeth Category: Article, Misc. Print This Post Print This Post

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I’ll admit, I have America’s Test Kitchen on my season pass on Tivo and I subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated. But, this really takes the cake… [Edited to add: my lawyer has advised me to highlight the fact that the referenced cake was NOT made with a recipe obtained from Cook’s Illustrated.]

Over at Alosha’s Kitchen there is a controversy a-brewin’ over a recipe for potato salad. In short, Alosha was asked by Cook’s Country (a sister company to America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated) to remove a reference to a recipe for potato salad from her site. She credited and linked to the recipe to Cook’s Country citing that it was the original basis of her significantly modified recipe. Apparently, Cook’s Country requires written permission for reprint of their recipes. Ignoring the fact that she did not actually reprint the Cook’s Country reicipe, Cook’s Country sent her a nastygram explaining that Cook’s Country “does not allow for modification of their recipes in print”. Cook’s Country did this, of course, while claiming copyright on the recipes.

ORLY?

First and foremost – recipes can not be copyrighted. According to the US Copyright Office:

Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.

That said, the question remains as to what “literary expression” is. In the case of a recipe, this would translate to copying verbatim Madhu Jaffry’s introduction to a lovely bean soup about how she discovered the recipe whilst wandering the narrow streets of Athens and stumbling into a little cafe run by a Norwegian woman. And, “oh, how the rain poured down as I ate that wonderful soup, she taught me that her secret ingredient was adding a little bourbon in the third step.” (Note: I made up that story, the soup and the bourbon.)

If recipes did indeed get the full benefit of full copyright, the world would not have wonderful cookbooks about how to cook green beans or make flan because Fannie Farmer and “Joy” from Joy of Cooking would have cornered the market early on and prevented anyone else from writing about it.

So, Cook’s Country got irritated at a blogger who had the audacity to not only reference their recipe but to modify it. As the old adage goes, the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Why wouldn’t Cook’s County/Cook’s Illustrated/Test Kitchen want people to use and talk about their recipes? It will increase brand awareness and drive traffic to their sites. (Also, note that I haven’t linked to any of the associated sites…thankyouverymuch.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, as a vegetarian, I modify recipes all the time. I change chicken broth to vegetable broth or use regular cheese instead of vegan cheese substitutes. I also modify the recipe because sometimes I’m too lazy to get to the grocery store. You’ll notice that I leave out onions about 99% of the time or I reduce the amount of salt. However, from day one on this site, I have always attributed recipes to their original sources as I recognize the effort it took to come up with the original formulations. But, an organization thinking that their recipes are the only way foods should be prepared is preposterous.

That said, I will seriously reconsider renewing my subscription to Cook’s Illustrated. But, only after I post and review several of their recipes. I feel that because I am a subscriber I have paid them for the right to comment on what they have written.

So, to Cook’s Country, Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen, I ask you to relax and enjoy the publicity. Enjoy the fact that people are actually using the proper net etiquette and giving you credit for the recipes and, for goodness sakes, not hide behind a false claim to copyright.

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