A Food & Travel Blog

Recipe ownership & copyright infringement – be respectful, but informed

13/03/2012 | By

Recipe ownership and copyright infringements are a hugely relevant topic in the food writing/blogging world and one it is wise for bloggers in particular to keep abreast of.  This was brought home to me in a very personal way recently.  A few weeks back a comment was left on this post, which I wrote back in September of last year, asking me to remove a recipe which I had included as part of the post.  The message was sent from a David Whitehouse, the business manager of Dan Lepard – who wrote the original recipe which had inspired my version.  Whitehouse was requesting that I remove my significantly modified and adapted recipe, even though I had clearly credited Lepard as the owner of the original and linked back to the website where I had found the recipe. I won’t go into all the detail, you can follow the trail of comments from me, Whitehouse, two independent intellectual property solicitors (neither of whom was my own solicitor) and the other bloggers who offered their support on the post itself.

This area is a minefield and is constantly being discussed – sometimes heatedly – in the blogosphere, but there are a few things that every responsible blogger needs to know and to be mindful of.  Copyright laws vary from country to country and if you are going to post the recipes of others it is your responsibility to make yourself aware of these laws as they pertain to you.  Ignorance of the law is no defense if copyright is infringed.  Generally speaking, a simple list of ingredients is not subject to copyright – if they were, then a shopping list would fall under copyright and that’s just plain silly.  What may fall into the domain of protected intellectual property is the style of writing of the recipe method.  It is always advisable to write out the method in your own words, rather than run the risk of infringing copyright by simply cutting and pasting.

Recipe ownership is another matter and where those who modify or adapt an existing recipe may find themselves on sticky moral ground.  Neither recipe writers nor cookbook publishers are going to be fond of those who copy whole swathes of a body of work, but most do not mind the offering of a single favoured recipe by a sincere fan.   It is best to behave respectfully and politely towards the author of any recipe which has inspired your own amendments of a dish.  The passion for food and cooking we all share is generous by it’s very nature and it is unethical to claim ownership for a recipe belonging to another.  Those who write recipes for a living are, for the most part, happy to share the food love and appreciate the extra exposure they gain by bloggers giving their ideas a wider audience, but it is simply good manners to always credit your inspiration and link directly back to the source wherever possible.  Having said that, there is the odd occasion when a recipe owner does not want to share their work.  In this case you will need to rely upon your own conscience and your knowledge of copyright law.

In my case, I had not only credited Dan Lepard and linked back to the source of the recipe (it was actually already published on a publicly accessible website), but I also slightly altered the ingredients and very significantly altered the method to suit the dish being made in a Thermomix, rather than a mixing bowl.  This, it seemed, was not enough to satisfy Whitehouse who continued to badger me and suggested that my version of the recipe was derivative of Lepards.  It seems to me that most recipes are derivative in their nature, as each individual cook puts their own twist on traditional dishes and I was simply owning my version of a very popular treat.  This little fracas caused a minor stir and was written about by several others, including Dianne Jacobs from Will Write For Food, who managed to find a very similar recipe to Lepards which actually predated his by two years.

Some subsequent internet trawling on my part uncovered plenty of other well-meaning and sincere bloggers who had been approached in the same manner by Mr. Whitehouse, most of whom had unnecessarily buckled to his demands, having adequately addressed the legal criteria.  I took offense at the suggestion that I had committed an impropriety and took a stand and have heard no more from this man, but his actions have generated a great deal of discussion on food blogging forums and the internet in general, both here in Australia and overseas.  I think there are lessons for all of us here.  If you care about your integrity and reputation as a food writer, be original where you can and be lawful, responsible and polite when drawing on the inspiration of others.  Oh, and remember, jack-booted trampling over the sensitivities of genuine admirers may not be the best way to win fans.





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  1. Barbara

    Good for you Amanda. Glad you stood your ground.

  2. Amy from Appetite for Discovery

    Well said! As a new blogger this is an issue I follow closely and I am particularly careful about providing credits to links and original sources. I have absolutely no intention of taking credit for someone else’s work. That said, I am still a bit paranoid, especially after reading about experiences like yours, that one day someone may raise similar objections about one of my posts. My biggest fear with regards to this issue, however, is that bloggers may become so wary of facing these accusations that it will cramp creativity and stop people from sharing which, after all, is (for me anyway) what food blogging is all about. Thanks for providing such an insightful take on this complicated issue!

  3. Lizzy (Good Things)

    Amanda, thank you so much for bringing this to the attention of your readers and all of our followers.

    Frankly, I find the whole thing amazing. As a food writer and columnist from way back, I am 100% all for recipe attribution at all times… particularly in this new age of food blogging. But for goodness sake… I could happily point out (in confidence) a number of cases where I have seen a recipe in a newly released well known cookbook/s (with no mention of attribution to the source) and then when browsing through my library of hundreds of cookbooks, I find the exact same recipe by a different author published decades before!!!

    At least most decent bloggers who are worth their salt will always mention the source if the recipe is not their own or passed from a family member, referring to a recipe ‘written by’ or ‘adapted from a recipe by’ or ‘inspired by’! Especially in the case of bloggers, such as myself, who are NOT PAID for their work.

    Thanks again for bringing this important issue to the fore.

  4. Katherine Martinelli

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been reading so much about recipes and copyright, and this is a wonderful additional perspective to have. You absolutely did the right thing. And yes, your work was derivative but, as you mention, so is every recipe. The other week I made a maple-mustard salmon without looking at any recipes. In the next week I saw no fewer than three recipes using – and I kid you not – the exact same measurements and everything! Just goes to show there’s no such thing as an original recipe. I love your last sentence – so true.

  5. leaf (the indolent cook)

    What a mess! As far as I can see, you are in the clear. It would be good to hear from the man Dan Lepard himself and understand his role in this whole drama – he seems to be very friendly and interactive with bloggers on his twitter, so in contrast the silence on this has been deafening.

  6. JJ @ 84thand3rd

    Good for you Amanda! While I wholeheartedly support attribution, for better or worse, a list of ingredients holds no copyright. All food bloggers should know this to protect themselves. Lets be honest, there are new twists on recipes but unless you are creating with crazy chemistry, not many brand new recipes anymore!

    It is appalling to me that Dan Lepard allows (encourages??) David Whitehouse to bully and troll the internet in his name. As his partner you would think he would want to protect his reputation, not sully it. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I have long lamented the silliness of all of the claims of ownership we see so often so it warms my heart to see more folks concur what we all know to be true and Katherine makes the point again; very few things are really all that original…even if they are original to us!

    I’m glad you stood your ground because it seems you did everything one person could expect that was respectful of the source you used. Someone seems to have been having a very bad week and you were on the receiving end of his ire. That type of bullying is uncalled for and it seems more detrimental to the man at hand than your recipe could ever have been.

  8. InTolerant Chef

    So is the answer then NOT to give credit to Dan Lepard? That would seem to solve the problem! If you are allowed to include the ingredient list, and you changed both the method and the writing style, there should not be a problem, surely?
    I believe Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella had the same problem a while back with any recipes from The Australian Womens Weekly, there is a post about it on her site somewhere.
    I’m very impressed with you standing your ground Amanda! And as sweet potatoes are 79 cents a kilo this week, I shall enjoy making Lovely Lambs Ear And Honey Sweet Potato Brownies, using your ingredients and your methods. Yummo!

  9. Trudy

    Good for you Amanda!!!! Like JJ I cannot understand that Dan Lepard allows David Whitehouse to use these tactics. All it has done has cost him many sales.

  10. Kate

    All this is fascinating and reminds me of my mother telling me that often ladies she knew when asked for a recipe would leave out a vital ingredient so “their” recipe would fail for others !!!

  11. Nancie McDermott

    I read about you on Dianne Jacob’s essential and insightful blog for food writers, and found this post via twitter and decided to come read what’s cooking. I commend you for the way you have handled this prickly business, both in your responses to Mr. Whitehouse and your commentary overall. This makes me determined to follow you and to cook your food. All good wishes and thank you for handling this in a strong way that benefits all writers.

  12. Andie Paysinger

    I’m a member of Forum Thermomix (http://www.forumthermomix.com/index.php) and this David Whitehouse contacted another member who had also given credit to Dan Lepard for the “original” recipe, which she had converted for use in the Thermomix – making it an entirely “new” recipe.
    Mr. Whitehouse made the threats so convincing that the member removed her posts. However, the master moderator of the forum (and several people who know copyright law intimately) said they should be re-posted because they do not constitute copyright infringement.
    What this action, by David Whitehouse, has done is anger many people on several continents who state they will avoid any books by Dan Lepard from now on.
    I’m also a member of eGullet, a forum with thousands of members
    http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?app=forums and I posted there about the threats made to Forum Thermomix, which created further widening of the anger about this highhanded action.
    I’m an artist and have had copyright issues in the past, with commercial use of my artwork – a painting in the collection of the UK Kennel Club which was published in one of their books and copied by a print company. I still own the copyright. It required legal action to get the print suppressed.
    Congratulations for taking a stand.
    I have a few recipes on my blog. Most are unusual and won’t be found in any cookbook. Some are old family recipes that have been modernized, some are original recipes I fiddled with for years to get “just right” because these were things that no one was making at home when I began working on them back in the years prior to the internet and were not in any cookbook I could find.
    I may have gotten the original idea from a list of ingredients but my methods are certainly different.

  13. Lucy

    The much-loved Jane Grigson believed that she only once created a recipe that was truly her own, something I’ve always remembered.

    We are, all of us, products of what we read, watch, experience. Such a tricky business…enjoyed your thoughtful and forthright discussion with Whitehouse!

  14. Solange

    Just don’t mention the man’s name, so that his search tools will not alert him. I had a similar experience, when I dared to say that one of his recipe didn’t work for me. To be honest, after years of blogging and respecting others, he is the only one who has ever acted that way. I am completely ignoring his recipes and his columns.

  15. Hotly Spiced

    That is so well written Amanda. Good on you for standing your ground. It seems to me that Mr Whitehouse is waging a vendetta against bloggers. Your sweet potato brownies look amazing and if I make them and blog about them I will definitely be linking back to you!

  16. Jennifer (Delicieux)

    What a great post Amanda, so well written, and I am so glad you stood your ground. As Amy said, I worry that the debate over recipe copyright will impact creativity. While I wholeheartedly support attribution as Katherine mentioned, there are often times you come up with a recipe on your own only to find later other recipes using the same or very similar proportions. Recipes, and food are for enjoyment and sharing, and I think sometimes in this debate we forget that.

  17. Doc-G

    Nice work Amanda. An important post and you raised both of the important issues. Firstly, you respectfully acknowledged that there are some elements of copyright involved and identified particular areas of a recipe that are and aren’t covered and secondly, the potential for bad PR as a result of overzealous and mis-informed claims of infringement.

    Copy and paste with no attribution is undoubtably wrong but in your case where significant changes were made, you are undoubtably in the right. What David Whitehouse needs to consider now is the level of damage that has been done to the personal brand of Dan Lepard and the loss of support likely to ensue from bloggers and potentially even small news sites who might have wanted to cover his work.

    There are so many other people out there that it is just not worth working with people who threaten legal action at the drop of a hat.

    Speaking of which…my hat off to you for this article!


    The Foodologist.

  18. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    As Rebecca mentioned, the same happened to me early on in my blog (if you want to do a search for it just search for ACP and the Women’s Weekly cupcakes cookbook). I sought advice and was told that if I changed the method then I would be fine. I was also told that list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted. The support from my readers was lovely and really helped me through it as it is never pleasant to be threatened with legal action.

  19. Sally - My Custard Pie

    I’ve followed this whole story with interest so it’s good to read the final part of this chapter i.e. your point of view. The whole copyright issue is a minefield and the digital landscape continually changing. Good for you for holding your ground against bullying tactics (which I agree gains no favours for the author being represented). Paid-for work should be protected (I am astonished how many people I meet who are working for free to get exposure – this surely can’t be a good thing) but within reason.

  20. Judy

    Amanda I have great admiration for the guts and determination you show in everything you do and I knew you would stand up to David Whitehouse. He picked the wrong person when he chose to post on your blog. In time this will all die down but there are those of us out there who remember names – I and many others had never heard of Dan Lepard until one of our members on forumthermomix converted and posted one of his recipes. What bought great attention to his name and subsequently led to sales of of his books has now been undermined by the interference from David.

  21. tania@mykitchenstories

    Congratulations on your positive attention from the Blogging and food world. I can not agree more with all of the readers comments regarding attribution of your recipes. A link back and name drop is as stronger advertising as you are going to get these days FOR FREE…… I admire your resilience and am humbled by your incredible command of words. Power to you and all of us who love to cook and adapt recipes to suit ourselves. Unless a recipe is copied word for word there really are no NEW ones out there. There are ideas….. and they are the gold of course…, but once you have published and idea it is out there to be savoured and copied and adapted. This is the way the world works and not just the food world. My only wish now is that God would wade back into the conversation. I really did like the points he put forward re….. Leopards being his invention also !!!!!!

  22. Jeanne @ CookSister!

    Good for you for taking a stand. What DW did was bullying, unnecessary, unprofessional and has filled a lot of bloggers with anxiety that they are breaking the law. It makes my blood boil! The more people know about copyright and how it functions, the less attention they would pay to this sort of intimidation.

  23. Mandy - The Complete Cook Book

    Oh boy, I would be thrilled that somebody would feel “strongly” enough to make one of my recipes and give me credit by referring back to it! I do believe that just so long as we give credit and link back to the originator that that should be sufficient – sorry to hear that things got so out of hand for you and kudos for standing your ground!
    🙂 Mandy

  24. Julie

    Good thing you stand your ground Amanda. Thanks so much for sharing this blog post, it’s a complicated issue where I think all food bloggers should be aware of.

  25. Jen

    Agree, agree, well done for sticking to your guns. I’d never heard of Dan Lepard either and don’t want to find out. Such a great discussion. God is on the right track!

  26. Pat Machin

    Well done on standing up for yourself (and the rest of us). There are only so many ways of producing an edible dish and the very idea of someone objecting to sharing a recipe (with attribution) is anathema to me.

    Good for you and I hope you have given many of us the knowledge and courage to stand up to such bullying. Dan Lepard will never tempt me to buy one of his books!

  27. Tandy

    this is a very contentious issue, but you are right to have taken a stand! If you change the method and the ingredients it is an adaptation. Great post 🙂

  28. Jessica | Oh Cake

    I find the issue of copyright fascinating, confusing, and generally misinterpreted (rarely through malice). As you so rightly point out a list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted and most recipes are derivative of someone, somewhere, from some point in history. I always try to be original but let’s face it – certain things just *are* what they are! Shall I call Careme’s estate for permission to write about beschamel? I never make anyone else’s recipe (on my blog) whole cloth. I always adapt, re-interpret, and change to suit my style of cooking. Having said that, I also always link back and give credit and if I do source from a book I list the book, author and pages as one might for a dissertation. I certainly will not be accused of putting printed matter on the web! Excellent post – keep up the good work!

  29. celia

    Well written, Amanda, thank you. You raise a very valid point too – are there really any new recipes, or is every recipe simply a reinterpretation of a previous one?

  30. Vintage Macaroon

    I am another blogger who was a DW target. Being a Dan Lepard fan for a long time I reviewed his book and posted a recipe for his lemon poppy seed cake. I used to review a few books for Quadrille UK and I just followed the same format they requested from me. Dan’s recipe was already published in The Guardian and I gave him complete credit, changing the method somewhat. I did feel like I may have overstepped the mark, so I deleted the recipe and posted the link instead. Thanks for clearing up what may have been a clouded area in my mind 🙂

  31. Three-Cookies

    I received a comment from the same gentleman asking me to remove the recipe. I changed the ingredients and method quite a bit and the end result was different but he still insisted its copyrighted. I ignored his requests.
    Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin created the tarte tatin but I see many recipes on the internet that don’t attribute the source to Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. Dan Lepard himself has many unattributed recipes, for example spiced baklava and lemon semolina cake. I don’t think he learnt baklava from his mother or grandmother.

  32. JohannaGGG

    I am so impressed by your stand Amanda! It is such a shame that DW has been making so many negative waves because I have had great respect for Dan Lepard – having discovered him through blogging. But I think brings up the nature of the internet which is different from previous ways of communicating recipes – discussions such as this one are very helpful in nutting out the implications

  33. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Oh Amanda! I’m a bit slow and am just catching up. Jeez! What a pain. I’ve always tried to be really careful with any copy right possibilities, which is why it’s just easier for me to post recipes I make up. Saying that, if there are any recipes I have adapted on my blog the most, it’s Dan Lepard ones. *sigh* Thanks for writing this post, I’ll go back to your other one and track the comments now…

  34. Andrea

    Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for this incredibly helpful post. I have just had the same message from Mr Whitehouse and was readying myself to reply in the same tone that you had: namely that when the recipe instructions have been re-written by the blogger and the recipe given full attribution then there is no copyright infringement. I am myself a book editor and accept that this is a grey area, but I think Mr Whitehouse is incredibly naive in his approach to food bloggers and recipes. I think all evidence actually points to recipes being posted in this way as marketing and publicity for the writer in question rather than detraction from sales. But with the internet bullying Mr Whitehouse is carrying out, he is sullying the reputation of someone for whom we all had a lot of respect.

    Thanks again for this very helpful post and for your strong position.


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