Today I’m taking a break from yummy-ness so I can talk to you about something really important: copyright infringement. Please take some time to read this, and I promise I’ll have a yummy recipe for you in a day or two!
There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere lately about copyright infringement, particularly in reference to recipes and food bloggers. Or maybe it’s always been discussed, and I’ve only just begun to listen… Either way, I wanted to add my voice to this discussion.
In my opinion, there are two types of copyright issues in the food blogging world that seem to keep showing up.
The first issue is that there are websites and Facebook pages that are sharing content that doesn’t belong to them. Basically, they post photographs and instructions from other blogs without getting permission, and without giving credit or linking back to the original source. You can see why this would bother content creators.
The second issue is that sometimes people share content without giving credit or linking back to the original source. I honestly don’t believe that the average reader is trying to “steal” from bloggers… it’s just the way we share content these days.
I think most people (myself included) just share things that catch our eye, without thinking about giving credit to the source. Most of the time it isn’t an issue, because when we share URL’s (links) we are automatically giving credit without having to do anything else. Sometimes when we share recipes though, we don’t bother with links and just share the content ourselves. This is where the copyright issues arise.
So what’s the deal with recipes and copyright laws?
I’m not a lawyer, so here’s a brief explanation of what is and isn’t protected by copyright laws, in Canada and the U.S., from other people.
What is Copyright?
“Copyright is the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish and sell a work. In other words, the Copyright Act provides copyright protection to what is referred to as authors/creators.
Under copyright legislation, the author/creator is the party that not only writes something, but that also takes a photograph, designs computer software, produces audiovisual materials, composes music, designs maps, or draws plans or illustrations in either paper format or other mediums.
It is important to note that the Copyright Act does not protect ideas, concepts, or themes, but that it does protect the language and words used to express such ideas, concepts and themes.
In Canada, copyright in a work comes into existence when a work is created. Under Canadian copyright legislation, the rights of the author/creator are protected whether or not he or she has marked the work with the standard copyright symbol “©”. - Government of Canada Publications (Canadian)
What Does Copyright Protect?
“Copyright law protects many different creations and kinds of content. It protects literary, artistic, dramatic, and musical works, as well as sound recordings, videos, and films. It protects such diverse things as interoffice memorandums, print and e-books, images, translations, website content, sculptures, and films. However, copyright does not protect ideas; it protects only the embodiments of these ideas.” – copyrightlaws.com (written by a lawyer)
Do Copyright Laws Apply to Recipes?
I couldn’t find a concrete answer for Canadian law, but I’m sure it’s similar to these:
“Similar to ideas, facts or factual information, history and numbers are not protected by copyright. Pi (3.141592653589793238…) and pie that you eat are not protected by copyright. The ingredients in a recipe are not protected by copyright, however the words used in the instructions on how to make the pie are protected by copyright.” - copyrightlaws.com
“Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions.
Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.
Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying it from an existing work.” – http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html (American)
Do Canadian/US Copyright Laws Apply To Other Countries?
“Once an author is protected by copyright in Canada, the author is protected in the 167 countries that are members of the Berne Convention.” - copyrightlaws.com
I’ve interpreted all that to mean that basically you can’t have copyrights to the list of ingredients, which makes sense. However, original photographs, descriptions, and instructions are protected because they are an expression of an idea.
Now that we’ve got the legalese out of the way, let’s look at a scenario.
Let’s say you tried a recipe from a cookbook recently, and wanted to share it with a friend online. You would probably either type out the entire recipe from the book, or scan the page and email the digital image. It’s pretty likely that no one would get on your case for not quoting the source. But if you were to share an entire recipe from someone’s blog or website, especially on Facebook or Pinterest, you’d probably (eventually) hear about it from someone. I’ll explain why in a bit.
So what’s the most ethical way of sharing recipes (and other content from the web) these days? Here are some tips to help you out.
Sharing on Facebook
Step 1: Explain what it is you’re sharing.
Step 2: Copy and paste the link to the content you want to share. Facebook will automatically show pictures from the site. Just pick the one you want to show and you’re done! Easy!
Note: If you’re sharing the recipe to a Group or Page, you shouldn’t post the full recipe or instructions, especially if you share content like that often. This screenshot of the Pillsbury page on Facebook shows a good example of recipe sharing.
Sharing on Pinterest
Step 1: Use either the Pin It bookmarklet in your browser toolbar, or use a Pin It button, and select the image you want.
Step 2: If there is a description on the pin, leave it there and add your own comment after the original text. If there is no description, add one (i.e. “Fried Chicken Recipe. I can’t wait to make this!”). Don’t copy and paste ingredients, instructions or directions into the description or comment areas.
Step 3: Pin this image to one of your awesome boards!
Sharing On Twitter
You don’t even need a step 1 here. Just copy and paste the link to the content you want to share. Add a hashtag if you want. That’s it!
Sharing on Blogs or Websites:
If you want to use someone else’s photographs, images or text on your site, always ask the owner of the original content for permission first. For recipes, you can use someone else’s recipe as long as you re-write the instructions and use your own photographs & images. Bonus points if say something like “inspired by” or “adapted from” and link to the original content.
Sharing through Personal Emails or In-Person
I know that some bloggers are going to disagree with me here.
Personally, I think if you’re emailing a recipe to one person, for personal use, it’s ok to copy and paste the recipe into the body of the email and add the link to the original source. Adding the link not only gives credit to the author, but it allows that person to go back and find more content from that author.
The same goes for sharing in person. Just print the recipe directly off the site so it retains the author information. Many food blogs use plugins for their recipes that allow users to print a “printer-friendly” version of the recipe, which is handy.
Using Sharing Tools
Another great way to share recipes or other content is to use sharing tools. Many bloggers use built-in buttons or bars (like this one from Shareaholic) to make it easy for people to share their content. This is usually a fool-proof way to ensure that you’ve given credit to the author when you share.
Let’s go back to our original scenario for a moment. Why is it so important to give credit to the original source of online content, when no one seemed to give a damn about print?
When I asked a friend how she felt about the situation, she gave me a response that I know most readers would agree with.
“Is there debate and anger amongst writers when little old ladies pass down their cue cards to their grandchildren so that the next generation can keep enjoying “grandma’s” pumpkin pie recipe? If there is, I’ve never heard of it. But there is when it comes to sharing on social media… why? It seems like social media is just acting as the cue cards for the 2.0 generation. If we were writing these recipes down on paper and sharing them at family gatherings would it instigate the same debate as it is if we were to share them online?”
I think the difference has to do with reach. That copy of grandma’s pie recipe probably didn’t get passed around to more than 10 people, and everyone who got it probably knew who grandma was. Also, Grandma probably didn’t care that you shared it, she didn’t claim to have invented the recipe, and she didn’t lose anything by sharing it.
This is also why I think sharing recipes by email is ok. While that email might get passed around a bit, it won’t ever have the same reach as anything online gets. Whereas a Pinterest pin, with a full recipe in the comments, might get re-pinned 1000 times or more.
That would be 1000 people who thought the recipe was interesting enough to re-pin. Out of those 1000, how many of them would click-through to the original post? If the recipe is right there with the pin, there is no reason for them to click-through.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it… one big reason why so many bloggers get pissed off is that many of them use their blog as a source of income. They spend hours (sometimes days) creating, editing, and posting content for other people to enjoy, and get some income from sponsors or advertisers in return. When someone pins or posts entire recipes with instructions, then no one has a reason to visit the original site anymore. This loss of traffic equals a loss of income for many people.
This is also why the websites and Facebook pages that use stolen content are such an issue. They aren’t just robbing bloggers of potential visitors and income, but in many cases they are generating their own income from content that doesn’t belong to them. I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve found that are using stolen content, and almost all of them are littered with Google ads and other affiliate links. And, of course, on top of that they are infringing on the rights of the content creators. The sad truth is that the people behind these sites know exactly what they are doing, and they don’t care.
Overall, it’s easy to share content in a way that is considerate and lawful. And I hope you do keep sharing! Bloggers love it when people share their content. That’s kind of the whole point of blogging, right?
To wrap up, I’d like to share some insights that I got from industry professionals on the subject. After all, it’s not just about my opinion.
“When it comes to the world of food blogging it is still extremely important and ethical to state where those recipes came from. The blogs I read often post links to original recipes even when their dish was simply inspired by it. When it comes to photography and words, if people are taking your content word for word without attribution that is a direct violation of copyright. Consider your options.” – an Editor for an online media outlet
“There’s no doubt to me that there is an ethical obligation; a common sensical understanding of things; and plain old impulse of decency and not being a complete jerk that would all state as self-evident that you should give credit and offer a link to an original source.
The latter has obviously put time, effort and invested individual creativity, all of which in the instance of food blogs are on offer for others to use with only this small requirement of rudimentary civility and sense of fairness.
There should also be interventions wherever possible on social media with these foodies, civil and asking for fair play, that call them on what they’re doing and tries to steer their culture to making some basic consideration of original sources a norm.” – A Journalism Professor
Is this an issue that you feel strongly about? Do you want to spread the word about sharing content? Go ahead and grab my button!
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This is not a sponsored post.
This article is not intended to serve as legal advice and is for information purposes only. Please contact a lawyer if you have further legal questions.