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Malawry

Food writer fired for plagiarism

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"Giving the game away proves to be the rule rather than the exception among plagiarists. Both in the commission of the original act and in the fantastic excuses that follow it, plagiarism is often calculated above all to result in detection."

Fat Guy,

A very perceptive observation by your late father. A couple of the more celebrated (!) plagiarism cases in Toronto newspapers involving people lifting from the New Yorker, from a collection of columns by Tom Wicker...in short, stealing in such a blatant way that it was impossible not to get nailed. One unfortunate books columnist was caught twice--and committed suicide.


Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

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A few months ago I had asked a couple of fellow foodies, all well established in their areas, to contribute recipes for a magazine in NY. I had been asked by the magazine to pull together 15 recipes. I collected it all, called and asked each person to ensure that it was their own work... was assured that it was. Then a few weeks ago, I was looking through a very very old cookbook at Borders (you know the ones that they have for sale for $1.00) and guess what -- yes -- one of the "established food writers" with their own food business and website -- had copied the recipes (WORD FOR WORD) from this book and sent it to me... I WAS SO MAD... I know its a small thing compared to what is being discussed here.. but it makes me really angry that people do this all the time

Monica

Boy Monica, that's really lousy. I would be hopping mad if that happened to me too. Did you call the plagiarizing foodie on his/her gaffe?

I think that some editors and writers -- perhaps even some professional cooks -- mistakenly consider recipes to be a grayer area than text. How much do you have to change to make a recipe "yours"? One ingredient, one measurement, one description of how to combine ingredients?

I suspect that recipe plagiarism is even more rampant than we suspect.

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I suspect that recipe plagiarism is even more rampant than we suspect.

All forms of plagiarism are probably more rampant than we suspect. If Doris Kearns Goodwin, who sat on the Pulitzer Prize committee, can do it and emerge relatively unscathed, what kind of example does that set for journalists starting out in their careers?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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All forms of plagiarism are probably more rampant than we suspect. If Doris Kearns Goodwin, who sat on the Pulitzer Prize committee, can do it and emerge relatively unscathed, what kind of example does that set for journalists starting out in their careers?

FG, this is probably true, but I still can't put this reporter's scenario in the "plagiarism" category any more than I could put the example I gave earlier, as an attorney citing a case in court, and failing to accredit the paralegals who spent all night researching the matter!!

I think these newspapers are trying, in the wrong way, to show that they are not going to let happen what happened to the NY Times (Blair) but that was not plagiarism, that was fabrication!

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I think it's wrong to lump second rate writing and plagiarism together as sloppy journalism. While there's a difference between haute cusine and diner cooking and there are good and bad examples of diner cooking, unsanitary kitchens are a concern on a different moral and ethical, as well as legal, plane. There's nothing unethical about a lack of erudition.

Plagiarism and copywright issues are also separate topics, but they touch on similar ethical issues that are unclear to most people. I find it interesting that the opening post on this topic, evidently contained copyrighted material. I mean this as food for thought and as non judgementally as possible.

In this day and age when writers make notes on a computer and do their research online, it may be very easy to confuse one's own notes with lifted material, though it should be the responsibility of every journalist to mark his source material correctly. According to the Washinton Post, Ms. Mamone offered a defense for her lack of ethics not necessarily based on sloppyiness. She says she was "in a hurry, but "more concerned about the flow of the sentence." Jason Blair may have been dishonoring the reader. Karen Mamone dishonored her source.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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A few months ago I had asked a couple of fellow foodies, all well established in their areas, to contribute recipes for a magazine in NY. I had been asked by the magazine to pull together 15 recipes. I collected it all, called and asked each person to ensure that it was their own work... was assured that it was. Then a few weeks ago, I was looking through a very very old cookbook at Borders (you know the ones that they have for sale for $1.00) and guess what -- yes -- one of the "established food writers" with their own food business and website -- had copied the recipes (WORD FOR WORD) from this book and sent it to me... I WAS SO MAD...

That is one of the problems I have with a cookbook I am working on. It seems that some of the “family” recipes I have been given are from published works. In most cases I think they where modified works of the original. In other cases they seem to be direct copies from old cookbooks put out by some of the food manufactures.

In this persons case I think she was being lazy and deserves to be let go. Too much cut and paste now is passed off as original work.

As for my dilemma, I will not use anything that I cannot prove to be original or get clearance for. They changed a lot of the laws related to intellectual property over the last few years. Too many thin lines to deal with. What might have passed, as derivative work may not. As much as I like Aunt Sarah's fudge, I have a suspicion that it is an old Borden or Nestles creation rather than her own.


Living hard will take its toll...

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I think that some editors and writers -- perhaps even some professional cooks -- mistakenly consider recipes to be a grayer area than text. How much do you have to change to make a recipe "yours"? One ingredient, one measurement, one description of how to combine ingredients?

I suspect that recipe plagiarism is even more rampant than we suspect.

Bux is correct when he said that copyrights and plagiarism are two separate issues. The way I see it (I think FG brought this up, IIRC), copyright is a legal issue, while plagiarism is an ethical one.

Recipes DO have less copyright protection than text in most cases. So you don't have to change much in a recipe to get out from under the recipe's copyright. The ethical issue of plagiarizing a recipe, however, is not quite so clear (e.g., the number of changes you make before a recipe is "yours"). I think a lot of the mixup regarding whether recipes are a grayer area than text is due to the confusion between what copyright law covers and what plagarism covers.


Edited by ChocoKitty (log)

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Plagiarism is failure to attribute. As soon as you credit your source, you are no longer in the realm of plagiarism.

Copyright violation occurs whether you attribute your source or not. It's about ownership.

You can of course commit both simultaneously.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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A few months ago I had asked a couple of fellow foodies, all well established in their areas, to contribute recipes for a magazine in NY. I had been asked by the magazine to pull together 15 recipes. I collected it all, called and asked each person to ensure that it was their own work... was assured that it was. Then a few weeks ago, I was looking through a very very old cookbook at Borders (you know the ones that they have for sale for $1.00) and guess what -- yes -- one of the "established food writers" with their own food business and website -- had copied the recipes (WORD FOR WORD) from this book and sent it to me... I WAS SO MAD...

That is one of the problems I have with a cookbook I am working on. It seems that some of the “family” recipes I have been given are from published works. In most cases I think they where modified works of the original. In other cases they seem to be direct copies from old cookbooks put out by some of the food manufactures.

In this persons case I think she was being lazy and deserves to be let go. Too much cut and paste now is passed off as original work.

As for my dilemma, I will not use anything that I cannot prove to be original or get clearance for. They changed a lot of the laws related to intellectual property over the last few years. Too many thin lines to deal with. What might have passed, as derivative work may not. As much as I like Aunt Sarah's fudge, I have a suspicion that it is an old Borden or Nestles creation rather than her own.

I agree with you. I put my name and my approval on the recipes I sent in to the publication -- vouching for the authors and making a big deal about the originality of the pieces -- and was left with egg on my face.

I have just completed my second book with over 300 recipes. Working with my family and friends and trusted editors we have created recipes -- each one has been worked from scratch, bettered after testing and then worked on some more -- this is even before the editors looked at it. It is HARD HARD WORK. It makes me really mad when people just pick recipes up from places and say they own them

Okay, I am off my soap box


Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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I have found that with recipes, it is usually fairly easy to tell whether it is totally original or based on a published recipe. Most truly original home recipes look something like this:

Cook up some cannellini until soft.  You can use canned, but dried is really better.

Fish the beans out of the water and run them through a food mill to puree.  Don't use a food processor or they'll get gluey!

Throw some softened garlic into the food mill as well.  You can put these in the water with the beans for the last few minutes, or slice and soften in olive oil.

Add salt, pepper, olive oil, and some bean water until it reaches a mashed potato consistency.  Fold in some finely chopped fresh rosemary.

I like to serve this with pan roasted squab...  People often think it will be mashed potatoes until they take the first bite.

© 2003 slkinsey  (not!)

"Home" recipes that are really cookbook recipes look more like this:

Soak 2 cups of dried cannellini in cold water overnight.  Discard water and boil in 8 cups of water until soft (2 hours).  Add 1 peeled clove of garlic for the last 10 minutes of cooking

Drain beans, reserving some cooking liquid.

Pass beans and garlic through food mill.

Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground pepper.

Etc.

Anything that calls for precisely measured amounts (except for baking), especially if it tells you how many it serves, is unlikely to be "authentic" even if it has been in the family for years. Anything that calls for things to be added according to a number of "tomato cans" of a certain ingredient is much more likely to be real. Think about the way you usually cook when you are making dishes of your own invention... do you have any idea how many teaspoons of this and that are in it? I certainly don't.


--

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Anything that calls for precisely measured amounts (except for baking), especially if it tells you how many it serves, is unlikely to be "authentic" even if it has been in the family for years.  Anything that calls for things to be added according to a number of "tomato cans" of a certain ingredient is much more likely to be real.  Think about the way you usually cook when you are making dishes of your own invention...  do you have any idea how many teaspoons of this and that are in it?  I certainly don't.

Interesting rule of thumb, but I'm not so sure about this. If I'm making up a recipe and expect other people to use it, I would definitely measure out stuff and write it like a "textbook" recipe, if only to prevent angry phone calls from friends saying that my recipe didn't work for them. It's cumbersome, but I think it's necessary.

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One of the most notorious examples of recipe plagiarism is one invented by Richard Olney, where he inserted stuffing under the skin of a chicken. He wrote about it in Simple French Food. A few other people picked it up, claimed it as their own and published recipes based on it. I believe Olney grumbled a bit, but essentially did nothing to protect his copyright.


Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

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And plagiarism will only become a bigger problem & yet a more murky problem due to digital texts as opposed to printed texts. (In fact, plagiarism is specifically a historical result of printed culture. There is no such concept in oral traditions.)

Imagine teaching today & always wondering where a student paper comes from. :wacko:

Edit: bad grammar :laugh:


Edited by MatthewB (log)

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I think these newspapers are now nitpicking.  I think these practices of giving someone else the "grunt work" have gone on and been widely accepted for years.  Why is this any different from the sous-chefs in the kitchen doing all the work, and the proprietor/chef gets all the credit?  Or a lawyer citing a case in court, and the research was done by his paralegal team?  The limelight goes to the stars, and the grunts will continue to do their work without any mention.

This is really comparing apples to oranges. The grunt work performer is usually a paid underling. What you are describing sounds more like ghost writing. The ghost writer may not get credit, but they are paid for what they do and know it is part of the business. The online writers that were plagerized by this "reporter" were neither paid, nor credited, nor knew that their words were being used by another. Plagerism is more akin to a victim/thief relationship than a supporting team/star one.

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One of the most notorious examples of recipe plagiarism is one invented by Richard Olney, where he inserted stuffing under the skin of a chicken. He wrote about it in Simple French Food.  A few other people picked it up, claimed it as their own and published recipes based on it. I believe Olney grumbled a bit, but essentially did nothing to protect his copyright.

As someone explained earlier, Olney would have had no legal leg to stand on, because it's not illegal to copy someone's recipe without attribution if you put it in your own words. It's just unethical.

Just to play devil's advocate and give myself the opportunity to be quoted out of context, should the average reader give a shit about plagiarism? Sure, it matters to writers and editors, but as a reader, wouldn't you rather read something that's plagiarized and good than something original that sucks?


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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In a sense, sure, of course. But at the same time readers don't like to be lied to, and plagiarism is first and foremost a lie.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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One of the most notorious examples of recipe plagiarism is one invented by Richard Olney, where he inserted stuffing under the skin of a chicken. He wrote about it in Simple French Food.  A few other people picked it up, claimed it as their own and published recipes based on it. I believe Olney grumbled a bit, but essentially did nothing to protect his copyright.

As someone explained earlier, Olney would have had no legal leg to stand on, because it's not illegal to copy someone's recipe without attribution if you put it in your own words. It's just unethical.

Unethical? So any subsequently published recipe that calls for placing stuffing under the skin of a chicken is unethical? And was Olney really the first person to do this? Or the first published example?

Do you know how many published recipes contain identical lists of ingredients or specific processes? Are they all (minus one, I guess) unethical? How many recipes are so unique in this regard that they would pass your ethics standard?

As far as I know, formulas and processes are not protected by

copyright law. To obtain legal rights you would need to secure a patent (lawyers please correct me if I'm wrong).

I've always understood this to mean that the 'ingredients and steps' portion of a published recipe are not copyright-able. Only the 'creative expression' (the 'in your own words' part) is something that can be copyright infringed, or plagiarised. You do not need to alter the list of ingredients (by omission or amount) in order to avoid copyright infringement. Is this incorrect?

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I've always understood this to mean that the 'ingredients and steps' portion of a published recipe are not copyright-able. Only the 'creative expression' (the 'in your own words' part) is something that can be copyright infringed, or plagiarised. You do not need to alter the list of ingredients (by omission or amount) in order to avoid copyright infringement. Is this incorrect?

You are correct. The recipe formula itself is not copyrightable. That's why any discussion regarding copyrighting recipes tends to get garbled -- some people interpret the word "recipe" to mean the food creation itself, while in a copyright sense the word "recipe" only covers the recipe text, NOT the food made from the text instructions. Two meanings to the same word = people talking past each other.

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Er, sorry, I didn't mean to imply that I thought that Olney invented this roast chicken or that no one should ever be able to refer to it without giving him props. I meant almost the opposite: that Olney can complain all he wants (which is not much, since he's dead), but he's got no case. On the other hand, it's nice to explain where you got an idea from, not just to give credit but so that people who like following an idea to its source can have some fun.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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[The online writers that were plagerized by this "reporter" were neither paid, nor credited, nor knew that their words were being used by another.

The NY Times has indicated that Rick Bragg did indeed pay his "ghost writer" for the story done about the oystermen. The other issue is that, as Howard Kurtz has said, this is a rather common practice today for journalists that have gone "up the ladder". Maybe it fits a pure definition of plagiarism, but I'm still convinced that this was a backlash of the Jason Blair events.

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Camille & Choco: plagiarism and copyright infringement are two different things. Even if something is in the public domain, even if no law protects it, it is still plagiarism to copy it without attribution -- to say you created it when in fact someone else did.

Menton: ghost-writing is a common and accepted practice in the industry. If anybody wants to make the case that it's unethical, that's fine, but it's not the assumption most writers work under. I've never had the need for a ghost-writer, but I have been one on dozens of occasions.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Camille & Choco: plagiarism and copyright infringement are two different things. Even if something is in the public domain, even if no law protects it, it is still plagiarism to copy it without attribution -- to say you created it when in fact someone else did.

FG: I know there is a distinction, but I'm not sure how you apply ethics to plagiarism in certain cases. For example: If I publish a recipe that includes a standard bechamel sauce as one of the components, and list the ingredients and steps for it therein - is attribution necessary? The Olney/chicken stuffing example is similar, no?

I just think unethical is a bit too strong a term for something this grey. If no law protects it, then what defines the standards?

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FWIW, the article that I was thinking of earlier--concerning recipes & plagiarism-- is "Quizzing Glasse: On Hannah Scrutinized" by Jennifer Stead (reprinted in Davidson (ed.), The Wilder Shore of Gastronomy; originally in Petits Propos Culinaires 13 & 14).

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If no law protects it, then what defines the standards?

The standards of ethical journalism aren't defined by law, they're defined by journalists. Just as the law can be complex and possess gray areas, so can the standards of ethical journalism. But they are two different things. What is and is not plagiarism does not derive from the copyright laws. There are similar issues touched on by both, but that's only the beginning.

Plagiarism in recipes is endemic, and as a result it mostly goes unchallenged. One of many things culinary journalists will need to do before they're taken seriously by the overall journalistic community is address that problem. Recipes cannot for the most part be protected by the copyright laws, but a journalist nonetheless has an obligation to credit the originator of an idea. For a standard bechamel or something that is commonplace, attribution doesn't make sense. But if one is inspired by a seemingly unique procedure, one should say so.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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copyright is a legal issue, while plagiarism is an ethical one.

I get your point but you are wrong. Plagiarism is a definition of a copyright violation. You can plagiarize part of a work and it is still a violation of several laws. The ABA has some useful information on their web site. Not in a great deal of depth but enough to give you a better understanding.


Living hard will take its toll...

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