Recipe Posting Etiquette

A quiche recipe I’ll be sharing with you soon. With proper accreditation of course. 🙂

One thing that I’m not very good at when it comes to blogging is doing follow-up posts. I’ll ask for help, and then never tell you what changes I made because of your input! I’m going to try to change that, and I’m going to start with some tips on what to do when you want to post a recipe on your blog, tips cultivated from the feedback you gave me!

First, I think it’s important to define why it’s important to source properly. Not only is it the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. Imagine you put hours and hours into… photographing a wedding. And someone liked the pictures so much that they posted the entire wedding set on their blog, and mentioned in passing that you took them (or didn’t mention you at all). What they should have done was picked a favorite photo, talked about what they liked about it, and sent their readers to your blog to see the full set. Or they should have emailed you to ask if they could feature your photos and had explicit permission. Makes sense right? Same thing with recipes. That is the reason why we should all be thinking about this, because not sourcing or getting proper permission is stealing from the original author.

I think the most important thing to remember when trying to work out the multitude of questions that can arise when thinking about this issue, is what a person can “own”.

I own the pictures I take.

No one ever owns a list of ingredients.

I own the recipe directions as written out in my own words.

You have the same right as well. So if you invent a portobello mushroom pie, take a picture of it, and post it on your blog, the written out directions and the picture of said pie belong to you. They are your creation, and no one should be using them without giving proper credit or your permission.

So is it okay to take a recipe from my blog, copy and paste the ingredients and directions on your own, take your own picture and put that up on your blog? No. You need to rewrite the directions in your own words. And you definitely should be sourcing me as your inspiration with a link back to That Wife.

There is definitely a gray area in all of this though. For instance, I pinned this Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard White Lasagna from Coconut & Lime. Looks delicious doesn’t it?

Legally I can take the list of ingredients, paste it into a post, write out the instructions in my own words, and include my own picture. Personally though, I think that doesn’t give Coconut & Lime the credit she deserves for a really fabulous (looking) entree. So I’m instituting some new guidelines for myself:

If I invent something or use a family recipe, I’ll post it right here. It might be based loosely on something I’ve seen in the past, but as long as I didn’t make it with a cookbook sitting in front of me, I’m calling it my own.

If I use a recipe elsewhere on the internet as-is I will use my own picture as a teaser, and I will write notes with any minor change I’ve made, but I won’t post the recipe here. I think the person who originally developed the recipe deserves the credit.

If I use a recipe elsewhere on the internet and make really significant changes (using a different type and amount of flour, using a completely different cooking technique, etc), I will write out the recipe here, along with my notes because if I make big changes you want to be able to follow them in order to duplicate it. I think this is an area that gets abused in the food blogging world. Swapping out dark chocolate chips for milk chocolate in a cake recipe does NOT constitute significant changes. I will of course always link to the page that inspired my adapted recipe.

If I use a recipe found in a cookbook, I will get permission from the cookbook author to post it, and if that isn’t available I will simply tell you how much I loved it and hope you check it out from the library or buy a copy of your own!

If you post recipes on your blog I encourage you to think about sourcing properly and making sure that blog traffic/hits go to the rightful owner. Sites like Martha Stewart, Pioneer Woman, Smitten Kitchen and others rely on advertising and hits to make money, and when you keep the traffic on your own blog instead of sending people to see them you are stealing a little bit of the money the deserve. Show them how much you appreciate having them as a resource!

Oh, and one more note that I almost forgot. Let’s say you are browsing Amy’s blog and you fall in love with the cupcakes that have Oreos in them. If you look closely at her post though, you see that the recipe originally came from Beantown Baker.  Who deserves the credit and the hits when you send people over to figure out how to make them? In my opinion Beantown Baker does, unless you follow Amy’s recipe word-for-word. If you are posting an adapted recipe I think it is only fair to say you found the recipe through Amy, but the original author was Beantown Baker.

I do have one more question. I have a cookbook from around 1913 that belonged to my great-great-grandfather. Is it old enough that I can freely post recipes without the need to get permission from someone? Same question for out of print books, if readers are unable to find the recipe elsewhere, can I be the source?

A few links based on the excellent feedback you gave me:

If you are puzzling through this same thing, I highly encourage you to read through the comments on my original post on this topic.

Echo Day pointed me to this post with a quick list of dos and donts when it comes to posting recipes.

MrsW suggested we check the copyrights of each cookbook to determine whether we can post an individual recipe. Genius!

Erin found a link on Smitten Kitchen’s FAQ page that can help us puzzle through this.

If you’re really stressed about these issues like I was, read this post Amy linked to called Recipe Attribution by David Lebovitz.


21 thoughts on “Recipe Posting Etiquette

  1. In reply to your question–copyrights typically last 50 years, so anything older than that you are free to post without permission. Also, if the publisher is no longer in business, I would assume the same. The same goes for if you don’t receive a response in a timely manner. Do your due diligence, but you may find that some are far less responsive than you’d like!

  2. I don’t mean this to be an attacking question, but as a genuine inquiry: I’m having a hard time reconciling your considerable care to take intellectual property rights into account for recipes (and your analogy to photography) and your previous statements about hacking your bodybugg to use the service without paying the subscription fee. (For example, I assume you would be against publishing a copyrighted photo without paying the appropriate licensing fee, if applicable.) Has your view on the latter changed, or do you see a distinction between the two?

    Jenna Reply:

    I’m not using the subscription, I’m using the device. The subscription and the program are still paid for if I would like to use them. The program I use it with is free.

    I think when I buy a phone, or a car, or a toaster, or a BodyBugg, I should be free to make changes as I please to use it in the way I want. Would you agree if Ford said buyers shouldn’t be able to change out the included car stereo?

    Bodybugg has charged me for the device, and I paid for it. From there, it’s my call.

    Marissa C Reply:

    I think it is fair as long as your realize that “hacking” it might void your warranty, terms of service, etc. We deal with that in the world of IT all the time.

    TJ Reply:

    I still don’t follow. If I buy photography services, and in my contract it says I buy prints from the photographer, so I get my prints, take them to Walgreens, get a bunch of copies made, and scan the photos and put them up on my blog with no attribution — that’s not an appropriate use of the photos, right?

    Jenna Reply:

    That’s improper accreditation. I don’t see how that’s even remotely related to your original question. Art issues and electronics issues are apples to oranges. You can copyright design, you can’t copyright how a person uses a product once they purchase it (photos are different a bit in that they an be duplicated, but I can’t scan in and print out another Bodybugg)

    Not to mention the supreme court ruled that jailbreaking devices is perfectly legal about a year ago.

    Lexi Reply:

    Hey Jenna,

    What program are you using for the Boddybugg?…I want to be able to use it without the subscription, but haven’t been able to find anything about it.

    Jenna Reply:

    I used something called FreeTheBugg. Apparently you can get it by joining a group on Facebook? I don’t know much about it though.

  3. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I believe that as long as your cite your sources, it doesn’t matter how old the book is, you can quote from it. For example, put the recipe on your blog, but put the entire thing in italics with your words in regular type and give all the appropriate information to cite the source, just like a research paper.

  4. This is a strategy I have adopted — definitely not something I did in the past though. In the past I would have C&P’d the recipe, but as I have learned more about sourcing and blogging, I try my hardest to give credit where credit is due.

    that said — it is hard because if something happens to the blog you link back to, the recipe is gone forever. So it hurts your archives a bit to link to what could be nothing, and if you use your blog as a recipe book (sometimes I look back to see “how did I make that!?”) it is gone forever.

    Jenna Reply:

    Interesting point.

    Sarah for Real Reply:

    Good point! Honestly the only reason I ever post recipes is for myself. I don’t think a single person has ever made any of the recipes on my blog but I like them as an archive for myself.

  5. I think books published before 1923 are considered Public Domain and so you can do whatever you want with them. (That’s why Jane Austen novels are now free on Kindle! Yay!) The copyright has expired.

    I totally agree with you on this especially about sending traffic to the rightful place. Honestly it’s easier for a lazy blogger like myself to just link to someone’s recipe rather than type it all out myself anyway!

    I do often post “adapted” recipes from cookbooks though. I don’t have a problem with not asking permission first. Usually my recipes originate from America’s Test Kitchen and I hack it to pieces, size it down, and lighten them up anyway, haha.

  6. Not completely off topic but have you seen this site, Jenna? It obviously doesn’t only apply to recipes, but I think it’s super important as bloggers to remember!

    (by the way, I came across it through pinterest first) 😉

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  8. This is a great post, and I think I’ll follow your guidelines. I’m working on a Barefoot Contessa challenge where I’ll be making 50 of her dishes. I really didn’t want to get sued, so I figured I should look around first. Thanks for your input!

  9. I googled recipe etiquette and yours came up almost top. This is great advice, I’m going to print off your own rules and follow them myself. Thanks

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  11. Thanks for posting these! These were exactly what I was looking for pertaining to food blogging etiquette. 🙂

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