Typically, when people think of copyrighted works, they think of literary works or even entire corporations, like Apple. But, for food writers, the very essence of their work, the recipe, is a source of much contention. Surely, recipes are manipulated and reworked, but at what point does a chef have ownership of it?
This has become a more pressing question with the advent of the Internet and the rapid rate of information sharing. Nowadays, when any one can be a cook and, similarly, a food writer, it is difficult to distinguish this fine line.
As Eat Local Week winds down to a close, and in an effort to stay on the topic of local sustainability, this article will explore the topic of food writing, the Think Local First movement, and the role copyrighting has in it all.
In the late 90s, The Independent published a letter from Johannes van Dam called “Letter: How to protect a recipe Food copyright not original.” In it, he wondered whether a dish could be copyrighted and even reached his own conclusions based on a symposium he attended, but in the end, he asked:
How original is a new dish anyway? Most big chefs stand on the shoulders of other big chefs; they just make new combinations. I recommended the chefs in 1987 to ensure every “original” recipe they gave away bore a logo I designed, indicating they were interested in claiming authorship and protecting their rights. Hardly any chef did.
Has anything changed since then? Are chefs privy to different rights in 2011 that didn’t exist then?
Well, according to the official U.S. Copyright website, “Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression … Works of authorship include the following categories:
(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.”
So, although recipes are not explicitly mentioned, could a food writer make the argument that it is a literary work? Perhaps if it was part of a cookbook with a story line?
Today, I speak with Dawn Viola, a distinguished food writer, recipe developer, and author of the popular website, Wicked Good Dinner.
According to Viola, recipes are, in fact, protected by copyright law. She says, “The law states that the method is protected under copyright, but the ingredients are not. There’s just kind of a common courtesy when you’re using a recipe from another source and you change it, that you reference the original recipe in some way.”
In our interview, Viola reveals that she started food writing and recipe development out of necessity when she was diagnosed with several food allergies that made eating anything at all difficult to do. Now having to research her food before she ate, she was put off by the additives and processes used to make the foods used in the traditional American diet.
As a result, she sought out a local organization that shared the same values she held for food. In her pursuit, she discovered Slow Food Orlando. She notes, “I thought to myself, there’s got to be something out there that shares the same awareness, philosophy and anger that I had, at the time, for the food system.”
After one year as a member of Slow Food she was invited to be on the Board of Directors.
As a board member for Slow Food, Viola recognizes the importance of local sustainability and small businesses in the community and praises the organization’s Eat Local Week effort.
Before her work as a food writer, Viola mentioned that worked in graphic design and often ran into instances of copyright infringement. Now, as the creator and writer of the successful website, Wicked Good Dinner, she offers copyrighting advice:
In this day and age, there are, of course, copyright laws that everyone should be abiding by. But, at the very least, if you have a blog then you’re writing your ideas down and they become tangible. Once they become tangible, they are protected and there’s proof the content came from you.
She recommends, “Bloggers need to register their work with the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. However, with a blog, it’s impossible to send all of your original work so you must register it as a collective work, which then covers everything on your blog.”
Food writing is an integral part to sustaining the community that preserves the Slow Food movement; Protecting the originality and integrity of that work is just as important, especially online. Since van Dam wrote the article in 1996, food writing and recipe development have certainly come a long way. So, for this year’s Eat Local Week, make sure to test the food, learn some new recipes, and visit your local small business.
To do my part, I visited Olde Hearth Bread in Casselberry, FL, to learn more about their local, all fresh processes.
If you don’t want the slow food movement to end with Eat Local Week, don’t fret. The Food Blog Forum is coming to Orlando in 2012! Read more here.
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