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.