Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What’s this? And why?

What’s this? A place for me to post recipes I’ve tried, liked, and want to keep. A modern, searchable alternative to saving piles of printouts, photocopies, and newspaper clippings, and to transcribing recipes onto index cards.

And why? That’s a harder question.

I brought my box of recipe index cards with me to the US, but I’ve found I haven’t used it much since I arrived. Partly this is because I’m still in full-on new-recipe-discovery mode. But it’s also because it’s such a pain to search 200-plus cards for the one recipe you vaguely remember but forget the name of; or for recipes that use up that celery in the icebox. My aunt solves this by transcribing everything into a huge Word document and searching within it, which works well but somehow feels vaguely unsatisfactory to me. Maybe I’ve come to expect everything to fit within my web browser.

This post by Jason Kottke on digital memory, and the Cory Doctorow piece it references, My Blog, My Outboard Brain, crystallised my thinking. I do treat my blog as memory: when did I last hike in Las Trampas? Where was that Javascript quick reference I spotted? And in particular, I do search the blog for recipes I’ve discussed in the past: what was in that onion dip?

So, this is an electronic version of the trusty old index cards. Blogger takes care of the publishing (and, as a bonus, the backup). Google takes care of the searching. (Note that the search box in the Blogger bar, at the top of all Blog*Spot blogs, does a Google search within the blog.) It’s mostly for my own benefit; but if anyone finds, reads, uses, comments on recipes here, so much the better.

But finally: what of copyright? Well, copyright on recipes is a bit of a vague area. According to the US Copyright Office:

Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, where 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.


Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to names, titles, short phrases, ideas, systems or methods.
So, copying a “listing of ingredients”: OK. Copying “systems or methods”: OK. Copying “substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions”: not OK. To me, this suggests that you can reproduce a Nigella Lawson recipe, by copying the ingredients and describing the functional method in your own words; what you can’t do is copy the flowery prose in which she describes how she makes the recipe, including the sensual joys of licking the bowl and the secret pleasure of raiding the fridge at midnight for leftovers.

This seems reasonable enough, and it acknowledges that recipes themselves are not unique creations; they circulate and evolve, but ultimately there’s only so many ways to bake a chocolate cake. The literary expression is in the description of the recipe and in the compilation of recipes into a collection. Recipezaar, one of the many recipe-collection sites on the web, takes the same stance:

Where does Recipezaar stand? A list of ingredients is a list of ingredients, the government doesn’t care and neither do we. But when it comes to other people’s description and directions don’t copy the flowery stuff, put it in your own words. You probably made the recipe, you probably did it slightly differently than the original directions anyways, describe what you did.
That suits me; I usually tweak recipes anyway, to fit the ingredients and equipment I have to hand, to simplify, and to suit my own style.

Enough introduction: time to start. No guarantees on how often I’ll update—it’s only successful recipes which’ll make it here, so if it goes quiet assume I’m either enjoying a run of repeats or suffering a run of failures. Let’s see how it goes.

1 comment:

droach75 said...

I found that post very helpful. As I am in the same boat. I have just started a blog,,and wil be posting Nigella recipes from time to time. I am sure UK Copyright laws might be a bit different,,that might be something for me to check out.