Saturday, 12 May 2012

Some people do the very strangest things

A simple tale here of how someone can say one thing to you in an email and then turn through 180 degrees - and maybe this gives you a quick peek at my day...

A food blogger - I won't for the moment name her, but I can - put the Dan Lepard recipe for Sticky lemon and poppy seed cake on her blog. The recipe is in Short & Sweet, and for those who don't want to buy the book but would like to see the recipe, we make it available on The Guardian's website, under Dan's name. So, as in many other cases, we ask people not to paste the whole recipe on their blog without permission (it's copyright, and we have publishing agreements covering it both in print and online), but instead, simply to give a link to where the recipe can be found. We don't insist you buy the book, we just ask that readers are directed to where the recipe has, by our choice, been made available.

My request that she should remove the recipe was phrased in polite and reasonable terms, and I made it clear that the rest of her post was fine, we just asked for the recipe details to be replaced by a link to The Guardian's website. Her initial objection to what I asked was based on the fact that she'd bought a copy of the book, and she seemed to think that as a result, she was entitled to post its contents online. Of course, this isn't the case, and as is typical with books, the flyleaf says " Text and photographs © (Copyright) ... All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission".

The blogger also started attacking me on Facebook, and also complained that when I posted my request, I hadn't given her my email address (not that hers was on the page she'd posted on!), so I wrote to her, as follows (this is it, apart from her name, word for word:

You said on your blog that I hadn't provided an email address through which you could contact me. Well, here it is. I don't generally include my email address in blog posts or comments, because there are too many "bots" harvesting email addresses (see for more details).

Our practice when a book is published is to make a short-list of recipes available for print media and online reviewers to choose from, if they want to write a feature or blogpost about the book, but in return, we ask them not to post other recipes from the book unless we've been able to agree to that first, and in any case, online sources apart from The Guardian are usually asked only to carry the recipe for a limited period. Dan's recipe for Sticky lemon and poppy seed cake has never been approved for publication online except by The Guardian and so we can't agree to your posting it.

The problem is that there are so many food bloggers that with one recipe here, and another there, an entire book can end up online, which really isn't helpful, and The Guardian obviously wants to see a certain amount of traffic (showing that Dan's recipes generate readers) if they are to continue to carry his work. So again, bloggers posting recipes undermines that relationship, and would eventually be very damaging. But we don't feel that it's unreasonable to ask bloggers to provide a link to where a recipe can be found, or for readers to make one mouse click to get there.

So we ask bloggers either to simply say which book a recipe is from, or to give a link to where it can be found "officially" online. This means that we are able to provide a great many recipes free of charge to internet users, but it needs to be on "approved" sites, and I have to say that most bloggers have no problems with that request. I would also encourage you to read about The Bloggers Voluntary Code of Fair Practice at, which again makes the point that "before reproducing any work, or photograph or recipe... you have permission from the publisher/author".


And at first, all appeared to be fine. She replaced the recipe details on her blog with a link to The Guardian, and later that day, sent me an email which read as follows (again, word for word):

"Hi David,
thanks for your email, I appreciate you taking the time to write to me. Unfortunately I checked it after replying on FB...
Anyway, I have put the link onto the blog now and hope the matter is therefore resolved.
As I said from the very beginning, I had no idea the recipe had been published online and I mentioned Dan's name to ensure that people knew it's not my own recipe.
I guess I felt that I was being attacked and that you were implying I had been stealing somebody else's work. I'm proud to always use my own photos and if I do take pictures in somebody's shop, at an exhibition or of somebody's work I always put a link up, so in this case it was an honest mistake. I very often promote other's work and didn't think it was anything else here either...
I hope this clears everything up now
Have a good evening,
kind regards"

Let me say at once that I'd never suggested or implied that she was stealing anything, I had simply asked that a copyright recipe that she'd posted should be removed from her blog. When, on Facebook, she'd asked me what would have happened if someone passed the recipe off as her own, without even saying it was by Dan, I had replied that it would potentially open the blogger up to more serious action. But this was in response to a direct - and hypothetical - question she'd asked me, and at no time did I accuse her of dishonesty.

And after reading her email, I felt that the matter was closed, and that everyone was ok with things, only to find a day later that without contacting me further, she'd gone back to her blog and was again accusing me of implying that she was stealing - and of course, she'd deleted both her comments and my replies on Facebook, and my comments on her blog - which she'd also rewritten. In other words, she was editing the past, and the exchange of comments, to suit her case. Her email to me hadn't asked me for any further response, and I felt that her words - "I hope this clears everything up now" - closed the matter. But the next day, she's also claiming that I "would NOT reply to a friendly email I [that's her of course, not me] sent him". She also goes on to claim three times that she was giving us "free advertising".

Well, I'm sorry, but this is what gives some food bloggers a bad name. Doctoring the past by removing comments and rewriting a blog, and hiding exchanges on Facebook. And most of all, if I have to say it again, taking a copyright recipe and posting it on your blog isn't about giving  the author free advertising. It's about taking what isn't yours, that you don't have permission to print, and using it to fill your blog. Good bloggers don't need to do things like that, and indeed, thay don't do things like that. Someone once complained that I shouldn't "name and shame" (I'm not sure why, the few bloggers who behave in this way have no reservations about naming and insulting me, and I don't see anyone telling them they shouldn't make it personal), so for the moment, I won't say who it is. But in the hope that she reads this, I will say that in my opinion, what she's done is underhand and perhaps even hypocritical, after our exchange of emails, and that it doesn't help her reputation. And most surprising of all, the pages of her own blog say, about her words and images, "Please do not copy them without asking first". A shame she doesn't extend that courtesy to the work of others.

Monday, 20 February 2012


No, I'm not calling food bloggers "blood suckers", before anyone accuses me. But a bit of verse which my Mother would occasionally quote is sometimes rather grandly called "the Siphonaptera", and its underlying message is that:

"bigger fleas have smaller fleas upon their backs to bite them"

Why is this relevant ? because while some food bloggers will occasionally lament the fact that their own words and photos are sometimes cut & pasted onto other sites, they don't perhaps stop to think that when they cut & paste a recipe from a professional food writer, they may be starting exactly that process.

An example I can give you concerns some recipes which Dan Lepard wrote for Sainsbury's Magazine. They commissioned him to do the work, and both morally and legally, it was up to Sainsbury's Mag and Dan to decide how the work was published and distributed. Now, I don't think many bloggers cut & paste out of a sense of malice, I think that they either do it without understanding the moral and legal issues, or they simply don't realise that they should at the very least ask permission before giving someone else's professional content away.

But that's what one person did, republishing the whole recipe at

I'm sure it was done out of excitement and admiration, not malice. But it wasn't thought about first, and the recipe should not have been printed without permission - doing so limited the value of the recipe to Dan and could have prevented him using it somewhere else. And to those of you who always tell food writers that "printing your recipes helps you sell more books", not one of the people who left a comment on that blog suggested that they were motivated in any way to buy one of Dan's books or even a copy of the magazine the recipe was written for (in fact, I reckon magazines are particularly vulnerable to cutting & pasting, as they sell into such a narrow time window).

And what then followed ? Why, of course, another website further down the food chain cut and pasted what the first blogger had written:

And so the harm is done: the lid, once taken off, cannot be put back on.

And that's part of the damage that food bloggers do, when they cherrypick recipes from an author and post them without permission. They only see that single recipe they've just posted on their own website, and not that this cut & paste can begin to cascade as other sites leech off them and repeat the process of taking and posting; and certainly not that they are just one blogger amongst many, each taking just one thing here and there but collectively looting a professional food writer's larder and potentially putting their entire work online, and depriving them of their commercial and moral rights. A food blogger who cuts and pastes does not act in isolation, yet often cannot see beyond their own little website.

The solution: do not cut and paste someone's recipe, and do not delude yourself that you are doing the author a favour. You might as well stick your hand in their pocket and see what you can pull out: and you would protest if I did that to you.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

that's the way to do it

To anyone who persists with the claim that they "have" to post a recipe in order to talk about it, could I just recommend something I found just by accident today, that proves you wrong.

Have a look at

The blogger writes about the tradition of stollen making, and what it represents. She includes her own lovely photos, and talks about what experience she has in baking this type of thing. Then she links to a recipe without cutting & pasting it, before explaining how she adapted it to the ingredients she had to hand and how it went when she baked it. Please note, part of what makes this so good is that it didn't go exactly to plan, and the blogger talks about her personal baking experience: to me, this is worth more than any number of pointlessly cut & pasted recipes. She also talks about what her family liked and didn't like about it, and what she plans to do next time she bakes.

To me this is what it's about: writing about your own baking, and writing "around" a recipe; giving a link to where the author has chosen to publish it and respecting their work, instead of just doing a cut & paste job. End result ? a really interesting blog post, personal and illuminating and drawing me in to her experience. And you know something ? It got comments, and made me want to read more.

Friday, 10 February 2012

why oh why oh why oh why ?

You know, I don't want to spend my time writing to food bloggers, asking them to take copyright material off their blogs. I work long enough hours, and I've got better things to do. But lately, I've had to spend more time doing just that, and in some cases, the blogger in question wants to turn it into a debate with their circle that I may or may not be allowed to be part of.

A case in point is Yes, I asked this person to take copyright material off their blog, and when they didn't respond quickly, I pointed out that their own blog says "I'd love you to share my recipes and photos, but please don't reproduce them in any form without asking first".

So please go and read their blog post, where I left the following comment, from the point of view of an editor.  I hope it explains a little about why the matter of copyright is important to food writers, and why cutting & pasting someone else's work is a bad thing.

"As Dan Lepard's editor, could I comment here ? On copyright, there is no copyright in a list on its own, whether it's a list of ingredients or a list of personal names. But when an author or food writer adds their own instructions, interpretation or method, it becomes copyright. However, if all you do is take an existing work and paraphrase it, while the original can be clearly identified, all you have is a "derivative work" which is not copyright and nor does it get you round the infringement of the copyright on the original work.

But quite apart from the legal issues, there's a moral question here. Doesn't a food writer have the right to decide where their work is published, and how they protect their livelihood ? If a recipe is written or licenced for publication in a newspaper, that paper is probably paying the writer for their work. It doesn't give you licence to take it for nothing, and the paper probably monitors page impressions. So if you reprint the recipe, the paper's page impressions fall, and the writer may not get more work. If all you give is a link, then people have to go to the authorised site to read the recipe, the paper gets more page impressions, and feels the writer has attracted readers. So when you cut & paste, you may damage someone's employment. That's not moral.

Another claim is that cutting & pasting "helps" book sales. If bloggers would agree to stick to a set of say 5 or 6 recipes from a book, that might be true (and please note, print magazines do this). But bloggers don't, they cherrypick, without permission, and a whole book ends up online and out of the author's control. Two further observations arise from that: if cutting & pasting helped book sales, the mushrooming in food blogs over recent years would by definition have meant an explosion in sales of cookbooks. That has not happened. If anything, sales across the sector are substantially down. And secondly, having looked at thousands of blog pages over the years, very few comments which follow a cut & pasted recipe say "I must go and buy that book". They are vastly outnumbered by posts which either say "thank you for the recipe" (you, not the food writer, please note) or those that just say something on the lines of "looks yummy". But hardly ever "I'm now going to buy the book". So the damage outweighs any benefit.

I would also note that it's a bit galling to find a recipe pasted onto a site where the blogger either finished each page with "© [blogger's name]" or "© [name of the blog]", please think about the totality of your actions there.

What we are encouraging all food bloggers to do is be a bit more original, to rely on your own lovely photos and what you write about your life, to say what you liked about a recipe (or hated!), how you may have adapted it to the ingredients, tools or equipment you had to hand, and what it was useful for. With a link to where the author has chosen to put the recipe, which might be on their own website, in a newspaper, or not online at all - just in a book. But not to publish a whole recipe. Sharing your own stuff is good, deciding you'll hand out someone else's stuff to anyone who Googles and finds your page, isn't really acceptable. One of the above contributors notes that since she's had to be original instead of just cutting & pasting, she's blogged less. But that's the blogger's issue, if you love doing it, do it well and be original, don't just take someone else's content to make your blog look full."

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Do as you would be done by ?

Again, let me stress, this is not an attack on food bloggers. It is however an attempt to make some people think about what they do, and one thing I've noted is how often an amateur blog that is stuffed with recipes and even photos, cut & pasted from professional food writers' sites, will also say at the bottom of the page "© 2010 my name or the name of this blog" or even something on the lines of "The content of this site is © my name or the name of this blog and should not to be reproduced without prior permission".

Come on guys, think about it! You want people to respect your work, and not to copy it ? So start by giving that same consideration to other people. Don't take someone else's recipes or photos and post them on your blog. You like their recipe ? Then give a link to it. Or make it, and post your own images, but don't cut & paste the recipe! Write "around" the recipe, say what you liked, or didn't like, about it, but if you like someone's work, direct your readers to their page, don't just nick their stuff. But to take someone else's copyright work and post it on your site, and then plaster the "©" symbol everywhere.... well, that's just nasty.

What's bad ?

coming shortly!

What's good ?

Perhaps I should say something about what I think is "best practice" for a food blogger. The two key things are in my opinion, to write something that's new and original, and to respect the work of others.

This doesn't mean that you can't refer to or talk about a recipe written by someone else, but I honestly don't believe that you have to cut and paste it. Every week, many food bloggers manage to write original, compelling and entertaining posts which have me coming back for more, which are all the better for being entirely their own. What I mean by that is that they can write "around" a recipe, talk about why they like it (is it easy ? is it comforting? is it just the best in its class ?), how they made it, any points at which they strayed from the recipe or adapted it; and maybe crown it all with some great photos of their own. And they don't feel the need to pad their blog out by cut and pasting the recipe.

Want an example ? One I saw and responded to just today is - simple, elegant and straightforward, it immediately cut to what the blogger liked about the recipe, and had me hooked when she said: "quite possibly the best". It clearly identifies where the recipe is from, and what the home baker likes about it, and gives a link to where the casual reader can find a version of the recipe, along with a recommendation to buy the book. It suggests a way of using the bread (great with soup for a weekend lunch) and communicates the blogger's bubbling enthusiasm.

I really think it matters that bloggers tell you where to find a recipe, rather than just repeating it. If you're a food writer working for a newspaper or magazine, the chances are that the publishers monitor the traffic to their web pages, and if lots of people go to the ones where your recipes are, it may help to keep you in work. If the recipes are on the author's own website, more visitors and a higher number of page impressions may help to show that you have a "following", which may mean you get more work commissioned - and like everyone else, food writers work for a living. And in any case, don't you owe it to a writer you admire to let them control the distribution of their recipes, and to share your readership with them if you write about their recipes ? So without even getting into the area of copyright, I think there's a strong moral argument for linking to the original, or giving details of the book it's from, rather than filling your blog with someone else's work. You can still write about what you make, and showcase your photos, and feel that you're lined up with the good guys.

oh gosh and bother

I originally set up this blog to publish some of my own (original) recipes, but of late, I've spent more time dealing with copyright and similar issues, and so for the time being, I'd like to use this space to explore that subject further, from the author and editor's point of view.

I'm David Whitehouse and in 2011, I was the editor on my partner Dan Lepard's book "Short & Sweet" (Fourth Estate, £25). It's a very big book: more than 250 baking recipes, 574 pages and around 113,000 words, and I can speak for Dan and everyone else involved in the book when I say that we are really pleased with the book and delighted that so many people have embraced it.

But one thing that publishing Short & Sweet has brought more closely into focus is the issue of copyright. Particularly the fact that some food bloggers don't seem to get the idea that, while it's good if they do something new, that's their own, it isn't so fine if they simply take content from books or other peoples' websites and re-publish it without permission: the matter of copyright.

So what I'd like to do here is explore what copyright actually means in food writing, what I think "best practice" is for food bloggers, and why it matters.

Sunday, 5 February 2012