I have a great recipe that I would like to submit to a contest, but I did not compose it originally. How may I adapt the recipe to make it mine?

  • Posted by: DianneD
  • March 18, 2013


ATG117 March 20, 2013
Copyright law doesn't protect much of a recipe. As others have mentioned, an ingredient list is not copyrightable. But a lot of this (for the purposes of food52) is about integrity and figuring out at what point you think you've taken the recipe far enough so as not to need to attribute.
Loves F. March 20, 2013
I guess to sum up what I said above, I think there's a difference between slightly adapting the wording on a recipe so you can share it with more of the world (which I certainly do on my blog), and slightly changing the wording on a recipe so you can enter into a contest where you may win prizes and get published in a book. I'd be stoked to see my recipes on other people's blogs (with proper citation), but less stoked to see someone else getting a blue ribbon for my recipe.
Loves F. March 20, 2013
DianneD, have you already adapted the recipe? Changed ingredients or steps to make it your own in any way? The phrasing of your question makes it seem as if you haven't and are cooking it straight from the existing recipe, in which case I don't think you should try to change things just so you can submit it. Is it a family recipe, from a friend, or published somewhere? If it's published recipe (that includes blogs) and is great as originally written, then I agree with creamtea that you should find other ways to share it, but not try to win a contest with someone else's creativity. I think if its a nonpublished or family recipe, then you can just talk to whoever it came from... I'm sure Aunt Kay would love to see you win a contest with her exact recipe. But BloggerX probably wouldn't.
creamtea March 20, 2013
Don't forget that if you simply want to share a great already-published recipe as-is, you can write to Kristen at [email protected] with a link to the recipe, for inclusion in the "Genius Recipes" feature.
bugbitten March 20, 2013
Hey valinsc, my wife was born in SC, and she's the atty. In respect I read your reference to find "A basic principle of copyright law is that ideas (such as a new method to prepare a fish) are not copyrightable but the means used to convey the ideas are (so that the exact words you use in a written explanation for how to prepare the fish is copyrightable). The pictures in a cookbook will also be protected by copyright law."

I think DianneD was asking a question that we both have struggled over, indeed all the above have struggled over, and what I failed to mention is my opinion that a recipe shared is one for yourself, and probably not yours to enter in a contest.
valnsc March 20, 2013
bringing in copyright law opens up another can of worms. here's some interesting info in that regard: http://copymarkblog.com/2011/08/29/can-you-copyright-a-recipe/
bugbitten March 20, 2013
I am not a lawyer, but it's my belief that you cannot copyright a recipe. "Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright," says our government. The agreement we US citizens live under says quite early on "to promote the general welfare." I think if you want to share a recipe you should just do that and say it's a sharing.

When the first woman invented indoor, ongoing fire, did she merit a copyright? I'd say be kind, be sharing, and be true.
Summer O. March 19, 2013
Dianne - This is a recipe I adapted and submitted. In it you will see references to the sites I adapted it from and looking at those you will be able to see the various differences. I hope this helps. http://food52.com/recipes/12013-tuna-croquettas-with-smoked-paprika-aioli
drbabs March 19, 2013
There's a wonderful little book I read recently called "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon.
It was based on a speech he made, and it has to do with remixing and re-imagining to make work your own. I thought it was inspiring, particularly since I think of cooking (and especially baking) as my creative outlet. This has been a really interesting discussion, and I thank you, DianneD, for bringing it up.
valnsc March 20, 2013
thanks for the book reference. just added it to my amazon wishlist, so i won't forget it. sounds very interesting.
Bevi March 20, 2013
drbabs, the process you describe I think of as synthesis - when a new idea comes out of the synthesizing of ideas already on the table. I also think that the degree of additional creative thinking is also a salient part of what constitutes an adaptation of a recipe. If you love to read about creativity, Gary Davis and Ed de Bono have both written some terrific books.
valnsc March 18, 2013
Ending the day by thinking about my response and I know I am taking this sway too seriously. I guess, Dianne, what I don't know is if this is a recipe from a cookbook or one which has been passed down, along, or otherwise shared with you. As a writer, I was kinda caught up on the whole issue of taking someone else's ideas and making them my own. I realize I came off as rather flippant, and apologize. regardless, best wishes and the responses sound great. I think if the recipe was not published and passed along, you have much greater freedom to make it your own.
Pegeen March 18, 2013
DianneD, also, here are my thoughts about your question. Please note these are my own thoughts and NOT anything required by Food52:
Cook the dish at least twice if not more. Chances are, you will alter something. Make notes. When you think have it right, cook it again. Make notes again. Now give your recipe to a friend and ask them to cook it. Depending on their feedback, cook it again. And you are on your way to a legitimate claim to adjusting a recipe.

Sound like a lot of work? Yes, it is. (And one of the reasons I don't post more recipes!)
DianneD March 19, 2013
Thank you Pegeen. Remarkably, the course of action you outlined is about just what I did! The only thing left is to give it to some one else to cook. But you gave me a good framework to live by.
Pegeen March 18, 2013
This is always such an interesting question. In my experience, people on this site usually seem conscientious (following the tone set by the editors) about including references to sources. And if they’re not, there are so many cooking-literate people here that the omission will probably be noted pretty quickly. :-)

I love that Food52 mentions competitive sites and authors in its features. The generosity of spirit, and educational angle, actually makes me more loyal to this site. And I think that approach also encourages contributors to acknowledge influences and sources.

With all due respect, I don’t quite understand any objection to a “this is from my Aunt Kay” type reference, unless it can be shown that it’s word-for-word from another source. Even then, it might be an honest omission and can be noted. Why would anyone be concerned about that copyright issue, if they’re not intending to re-publish the recipe for profit profit themselves?
AntoniaJames March 18, 2013
And then there's the problem of the recipe from Aunt Kate that's been in the family for years and years, which also happens to be a recipe she got from someone at the office, who took it directly off the back of the a box or bottle, but didn't say anything about it, and hundreds of thousands of people have been using it for years. I'm always amused when I see recipes on this site that are, with one or two minor tweaks to the spices, and a partial re-wording of the instructions, ones that I recognize immediately as having come from a source I used on a regular basis growing up. The line as to what's okay and what's not seems highly subjective. ;o)
Greenstuff March 18, 2013
Good for you for asking. It's not such an easy question. My understanding is that courts have ruled something to the effect that a list of ingredients does not make a recipe. And I find the example used on the FAQs a little too obviously okay http://food52.com/contests/about when there are plenty of entries that say something to the effect of "I got this recipe from my Aunt Kay." I'm always left in doubt that the posted recipe from Aunt Kay has even a fraction of the differences in the Food52 guidelines for contests. I'd love to see more written on this issue.
DianneD March 18, 2013
I agree Greenstuff! Kristen's answer was quite helpful as well as the reference to Merrill's article from cookinginvictoria. But more information would be great. Thank you for the help!
cookinginvictoria March 18, 2013
Co-founder of food52 Merrill wrote this great column last year about how she went about adapting a recipe and making it her own. She gives a lot of great examples and tips.

I too am often inspired by recipes I find and use them as jumping off points for my own creations. Good luck!

Voted the Best Reply!

Kristen M. March 18, 2013
DianneD, thanks for asking. I disagree with valnsc -- if you're asking, that tells us you care about submitting your own work, and not someone else's.

Here's a good example of an acceptably adapted recipe -- be sure to give credit, write it in your voice, and add your own tips and ideas: http://food52.com/contests/about
pierino March 18, 2013
The ground rules that Kristen has explained are exactly the ones I try to work with myself. I hate plagiarism (and I've had at least one contributor plagiarise my own work). Always, always credit the original source and explain as best as you can why you adapted it and what you did differently to fit whatever theme/need you were addressing. You will sleep better at night.
drbabs March 18, 2013
I often adapt recipes I like to my own specific taste, and have submitted those to contests. If you adapt a recipe, you should say where it came from and what you did to make it different. Here are the guidelines from Food52: http://food52.com/contests/about
valnsc March 18, 2013
not to be totally snarky, but if you have to ask now, aren't you really trying to submit someone else's recipe as yours?
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