Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why are We so Vehement about the America's Test Kitchen - Deborah Broide Publicity screw-up?

Over 100 people have commented on Melissa's blog post, "Illegal or Not?" Dozens of foodie blogs have posted about it, indignant conversations abound. Plenty of bloggers have dropped their subscription to the America's Test Kitchen products, or vow not to pick one up. We as a community are really, really upset.


I mean, in addition to the fact that Deborah Broide's interactions with Melissa were galling, that her claim to copyrighted material was unfounded, and that the "policy" that America's Test Kitchen's recipes can't be modified is laughably absurd. Which is reason enough to feel peeved, but plenty of us are still fuming and/or squirming uncomfortably days after.

Krysta's post, "Still Pissed Off," got me thinking. Everyone who starts a food blog and uses others' recipes has to develop a position on intellectual property. We've all thought about it: can I post this recipe, even though I got it from Gourmet/Joy/Aunt Susie? Should I credit it? Should I rewrite it? Should I modify it? Or should I just talk about the food and post photos without giving a recipe? There's no real convention in the blog world, although most people do credit the original source and link to the blog site/magazine site/cookbook site on Amazon. We love our recipes, we love the places where we found them, and we want to share our discoveries.

The America's Test Kitchen-Melissa interaction made us wonder if, maybe, we've gone too far.

We haven't, or at least Melissa didn't in this particular instance. But America's Test Kitchen's defensive position made us all look back and wonder whether we've been fucking over our favorite cookbook authors. Rationally, legally, we have every right...but there's still lingering doubt. I know I feel mildly queasy about posting on tonight's dinner (which, unhelpfully, happens to be a Cook's Illustrated recipe for enchiladas). As Mindy, a new foodie blogger, commented on Krysta's post:

"This is just depressing! I'm so new to this and have just assumed if I'm lauding (or even mildly appreciative of) another person's recipe--and announcing that it is in fact THEIR recipe that I used to create MY version--that I was acting responsibly and respectfully. I figure it's free--though well deserved--advertising for that person's books, blog, or other publication. Now I feel I have to approach with caution, and am a little concerned that I've broken the rules by not asking people if I can reference their creations."

We're also upset because recipe swapping, modifying, sharing is an inherently positive activity, both in real life and in the virtual world. The foodie blog world isn't competitive: typical feedback is friendly, over-the-top encouraging, with helpful suggestions instead of criticism. Unlike with most communities (political blogs, religious blogs, etc.), blackballers are very few and far between. So when Deborah Broide told Melissa what she could and could not do, dictating limits on Melissa's creativity, we were dumbfounded. You can't do that!, we splutter. It's my kitchen, it's my blog, it's my fucking potato salad. I'll make it however I damn well please. I don't need your permission to say that I used your recipe as a reference. Who the hell do you think you are?

It's unsettling to see how even cooking can get infected by the "mine!" attitude. Usually the kitchen is the best place to escape that.

I'm saddened by this whole episode. I really like Cook's Illustrated, pretentious testing and all. It fits with how Do and I approach cooking (which I understand doesn't work for many others and that's cool). I would really like to think that this PR fuck-up and the policy behind it is the fault of Deborah Broide Publicity.

In the mean time, I'm going to make me some enchiladas. July 2008 issue.


mindy said...

Hi Neen--
1. Thanks for summing this up so well. This whole situation sure has sparked some interesting thoughts and reactions!
2. Great blog; I will be back.
3. re: your email: You're welcome to quote my comment! thanks. ;)

and yes, I love Austin! you should all come visit in October or November, when it's less hot and so very pretty.

mindy said...

yipes! well, there you have it: typos and all! :)

melissa said...

(which, unhelpfully, happens to be a Cook's Illustrated recipe for enchiladas)

HAHAHAH!!! Too funny, guys. And you know what? I pick up Cook's Illustrated at Whole Foods from time to time and have always liked what I've seen.

Once again, you are so well-spoken and really get to the heart of this. I so appreciate this continued discussion.

Also, I swiped something you said in your comment on Krysta's blog and may reprint it when I finally write a followup... I hope that's OK! ;)

Krysta said...

neen, much better than what i could have said. that was one of the points i was trying to make... it's my kitchen, who are you to tell me what to do? kinda big brother-ish to me. i'm glad your in berkeley, can't wait for katie to get there.

Psychgrad said...

I can see how people might want to restrict the ease with which people can access their intellectual property. But, I also feel that in this day and age, it's a never-ending battle. Anyone that sells a product that can easily be transferred on the internet (e.g., movies, music, recipes, books, etc...) is going to have to deal with this issue. I find it interesting that some musicians are now saying - "here, here's my album. It's free. Just enjoy it". But, I suppose it would require that someone be motivated by sharing their craft rather than by money.

My personal feeling about food is quite lax. I do think that acknowledging the source of the recipe is important. But, talk of whether a recipe can be altered or not is obsurd.

I think what will ultimately happen is that ATK will lose viewers because people will not link to their website to acknowledge them as a source of a recipe.

Personally, I almost wouldn't have a problem with ATK's request if Deborah wasn't so condescending. Just as recipes spread fast on the internet, so does news. I hope she's learned to, at least, be professional in her requests. At best, ATK will learn to change their archaic policies.

For now, I'm treating it like an academic reference. If I garner an idea from someone else, I'll crediting them as a source or inspiration of a recipe.

Psychgrad said...

Oops...that looks like a really long comment. And to think I could have kept going.

noble pig said...

Still annoyed...still threw away my new issue...great post...such bad press for them.

Kim said...

Good post, recipe sharing and tweaking is a century long practice. Frankly, CI's belief that their recipes are perfect is a ridiculous statement.

Peter M said...

My understanding of blogging is to be as open and frank as possible about the origins of the dish. That may include inspiration from a book, show, person in your life and relate that in your entry.

Trying to pass one's self as culinary genius is really silly and someone will eventually call you on it.

Therefore, I cite my sources. I think I have a good sense for food and I share that with readers.

Here's my next hunch...not too many people will be trying ATK recipes! lol

kittie said...

Really good post - spot on :)

tom said...

It's my kitchen, it's my blog, it's my fucking potato salad. I'll make it however I damn well please.

This is my favorite quote ever.

That Girl said...

I think one of the things you pointed out is dead on, foodie bloggers are a community. And that's something that's going to come back and bite ATK in the proverbial ass. With technology the way it is, the trend is moving more towards the internet as a database. In general I tend to look for a recipe first and foremost in the blogs of bloggers I "know" and trust - people in my community. Only if I can't find do I turn to books, magazines, etc. When people blogging about how ATK recipes turned out, how they worked for them, whether there were modifications that could improve them, ATK is going to regret this little altercation.

Dave Skolnick said...

To my mind this is quite simple, and ATK/CI/CC has paved the way to a solution.

Their recipes are perfect and you may not modify them. If you post a recipe (derived or not) that is different then it is no longer their recipe and they have no rights to it at all. Ta da!

Regardless, they have irritated a lot of people, including me, or are influential (even if only at a micro level) among foodies.

One less thing to read as far as I'm concerned.

giz said...

I've learned that food bloggers are warm people and share their warmth with other warm people.

I've learned that food bloggers are a great source of support not only for other foodies but for the companies that they keep in business

I've learned - don't piss off the food bloggers. You'll pay the price.

Johanna said...

It is a sad state of affairs to have the friendliness of the blogging community challenged in this way but it also shows how important blogging is to us that we will defend it like this!

Dee said...

Great blog! We were in Austin but had to leave for Houston and not may pack up for another job elsewhere, next week, after four years. Don't want to jinx it as it's already happened once.

You did a great job of summing up the issues regarding patentable printed information.

I'll definitely check out your site again.

Leslie said...

I too have used Cooks Illustrated recipes on my site...and I am just waiting to get that hate mail from them! The whole situation sucks!
Anyways..thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment about my London Broil post!!!Come back to visit anytime!!

Bellini Valli said...

Like most of my fellow bloggers out there I started my blog for fun, to share family recipes, to make new friends who are also passionate about food. The fact that anyone else reads my little blog is a bonus believe me. We should therefore be able to use whatever content we want on our blogs. It's not like millions read us (although that would also be a bonus) and when we credit a recipe from its source it does create advertising for that person. Where are my commissions...wink...wink...