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Food writer fired for plagiarism


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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

To a great extent I have been working with loose-leaf binders and boxes of file cards and scraps of paper. What you would expect if you where the recipient of generations of recopies. I don’t think that most of what I am dealing with is an intentional attempt to deceive. Why keep the box when you can scribble it down on 3x5 cards.

This makes it a bigger problem as you might imagine. Exercising due diligence to make sure you’re not stepping on toes. I can see how much more frustrating your situation is. You have contact with the people and they have represented them as original. In some cases I don’t even know who wrote down the recipes and may never be able to. It’s not as bad when you can match the handwriting.

Living hard will take its toll...
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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.

You raise a good point. Legal definitions in this area get real strange. What a trademark, service mark or logo are versus fair use. What can and can’t be protected and how has undergone some big changes in the past 5 years. A lot of the latitude has been removed.

Maybe we can get a Food And Law area going?

Edited for spelling

Edited by WHT (log)
Living hard will take its toll...
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Imagine teaching today & always wondering where a student paper comes from. :wacko:

At the community college where I teach, we're making a big effort to combat plagiarism, emphasizing to students the importance of properly indicating any material that's not your own. I make a distinction between "intentional" plagiarism-- that is, finding a paper on the Internet or getting one from a fellow student and passing it off as your own-- and "unintentional" plagiarism, where a student quotes from some source but then forgets to attribute properly. When they submit their research papers to me, I make them submit copies of all their source material, so I can check for just this purpose.

As far as wondering where my students' papers come from, we do regular writing exercises in the classroom so that I can compare that work to anything which is created outside the class. I haven't yet come up against a case where there's a significant difference, but I will be keeping my eyes out.

I'm taking the Hartford Courant story in to class tomorrow to point out that plagiarism has consequences outside of academia.

Neil

Author of the Mahu series of mystery novels set in Hawaii.

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I've never had the need for a ghost-writer, but I have been one on dozens of occasions.

Welcome to the wonderful world of work for hire. A whole new set of rules!

Living hard will take its toll...
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Rail Paul, I'm an underpaid freelancer.  When I turn in a story, it may not always be my best work, but I certainly make every effort to ensure that it is.  That means double-checking facts, testing recipes, and, hey, not turning it other people's work unquoted.  I'm in favor of better pay and benefits for freelancers (I've got the UAW card in my wallet to prove it), but if my goal is to get the Daily Gullet to double my salary, I'm not going to get there by doing shoddy work, and I think the vast majority of freelancers feel the same.

That's because you're motivated by pride. I suspect most writers are. But I also agree that paying people poorly for work on short deadlines tends to prompt unscrupulous people to take inexcusable shortcuts - and that's what intentional plagiarism is, totally inexcusable. (I say that without having read the article in the Courant.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Plagiarism is a definition of a copyright violation.

So you think you can't plagiarize a public domain document?

I was speaking from point of law not point of fact. What side of the argument do you want to stick to?

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The part where I said, "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."

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.

Olney did in fact sue the author in question, the once-famous Richard Nelson, in the mid-1980s and, I believe, won, setting a legal precedent of sorts. The strange part was that Nelson (if my memory is not too foggy) passed off the French recipe as an example of American Regional Cuisine, something that Nelson did much to popularize.

Actually, I found an excellent discussion of the case in the site of Daniel Rogov, the food critic for Ha`aretz. Was tempted to plagarize it (har har) but instead will provide a link (look about 3/4 way down the page).

I wonder if Fat Guy can lend us his legal expertise pro bono to provide some more info on this.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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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.

Olney did in fact sue the author in question, the once-famous Richard Nelson, in the mid-1980s and, I believe, won, setting a legal precedent of sorts. The strange part was that Nelson (if my memory is not too foggy) passed off the French recipe as an example of American Regional Cuisine, something that Nelson did much to popularize.

Actually, I found an excellent discussion of the case in the site of Daniel Rogov, the food critic for Ha`aretz. Was tempted to plagarize it (har har) but instead will provide a link (look about 3/4 way down the page).

More on Olney - another site that mentions the lawsuit:

Olney's million dollar brussel sprout recipe

According to Rogov, Nelson had 'lifted' 39 recipes from Olney.

But the case was made based on the similarity of writing style in describing the recipe procedure - I doubt the duplication of ingredients or (completely restyled) procedure alone would have been enough basis for the suit:

The case against Nelson was not difficult to prove. Olney has a very individual style.

Regarding journo standards:

Some info about plagiarism, copyright, and recipe acknowledgement from:

The Guild of Food Writers

(the professional association of food writers and broadcasters in the UK).

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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.

I agree that you can both plagiarize something and violate copyright laws with the same act, but I still think that copyright infringement and plagiarism are two separate issues, as FG had also noted, and not a type of copyright infringement or other violation of the law. I could be wrong, but I'd have to do some more research to find out for sure.

I did a quick search on the ABA website and was only able to find this "Copyright Basics" primer, if anyone is interested:

ABA website

I'd be happy to do a little more digging (I specialize in intellectual property, so this is actually quite interesting to me!).

Edited by ChocoKitty (log)
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Plenty of lawyers who handle copyright disputes will tell you that plagiarism is a form of copyright infringement -- I just heard exactly that in a CLE seminar -- but they're talking about a purely legal concept of plagiarism that is incorrect, as the public domain example demonstrates. They've coopted the term to mean copyright-infringement-without-attribution, but that's not what it actually means.

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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Plenty of lawyers who handle copyright disputes will tell you that plagiarism is a form of copyright infringement -- I just heard exactly that in a CLE seminar -- but they're talking about a purely legal concept of plagiarism that is incorrect, as the public domain example demonstrates. They've coopted the term to mean copyright-infringement-without-attribution, but that's not what it actually means.

Oh lovely, lawyers assigning their own legal definitions to common words to confuse things even further. Ah well, it's a common occurrence.

Thanks for the heads-up on that *cough* "purely legal concept of plagiarism" definition. It's weird, because I've seen other sources saying that plagiarism and copyright infringement are often confused with each other, using the correct definition you've given.

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The news services are reporting that the executive editor and managing editor of the NY Times have resigned. Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd will leave their positions and be replaced by Joseph Llelyveld, former executive editor.

The report mentions their failure to lead in the Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg issues.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Olney did in fact sue the author in question, the once-famous Richard Nelson, in the mid-1980s and, I believe, won, setting a legal precedent of sorts.  The strange part was that Nelson (if my memory is not too foggy) passed off the French recipe as an example of American Regional Cuisine, something that Nelson did much to popularize.   

my understanding was that though olney did sue nelson, the case was settled out of court, meaning no precedent. further clouding the nelson issue is that his defense was that the recipes came from a class taught by james beard, who had given him permission to use them! (olney and beard were friendly)

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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.

That's why I think Bragg and the food critic in Connecticut are baffled by the sudden rush to judgement heaped upon them; it seems that what they did is common practice today. If this needs to be changed, why single them out?

What Blair did was sit home and write fiction. That is different!!

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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.

That's why I think Bragg and the food critic in Connecticut are baffled by the sudden rush to judgement heaped upon them; it seems that what they did is common practice today. If this needs to be changed, why single them out?

What Blair did was sit home and write fiction. That is different!!

in my 30 years of working full-time at newspapers big and small, i have never, ever, known a writer to use any help beyond the assist in "reporting" a story (i.e.: you need 5 reax quotes from disparate geographical regions, someone helps collect them ... and then that is always credited with a "reported by" line at the end of the story). ghost writing is commonplace in the cookbook writing world, or, more specifically, the chef cookbook writing world. But let's not mistake that for journalism.

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In my 3 months in the newspaper business, working as a "research assistant" during a summer in college, I did plenty of what I think would be defined by anybody as ghostwriting. A reporter or editor would say, "Call the popcorn industry group and give me a few paragraphs on popcorn sales," or whatever, I would do it, and it would go in the story (I was working in the business section). Sometimes I researched and wrote pretty much the whole story, with only a few flourishes being added by the named writer. Once in awhile I'd get in a byline, mostly not.

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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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?

I don't know if most people would, but services like KaZaA show that plenty of people would rather steal IP than pay for it. Spend some time reading discussions about IP and you might be surprised to find plenty of people who think they're doing nothing wrong.

Plagiarism is a war that can be fought and won, but IP theft...I'm not so sure. There are millions and millions of kids growing up in a world where they've never had to pay for software or music, and you can bet that given the chance they aren't going to treat books any differently. It's already easy enough to find a ton of copyrighted recipes on the web and unless something changes it'll be just as easy to find entire cookbooks in the future.

Will I use a plagiarized recipe off the web? Yeah, sure I will. I even rationalize it by telling myself it's no different from checking out the cookbook from the library and copying the recipe myself.

.....which makes me wonder if you copy a recipe out of a borrowed book, is that IP theft?

I've never really considered it, but it probably is.

:wacko:

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I'm not taking the IP bait, I'm not taking the IP bait.

But I'm not convinced that the existence of jillions of unattributed recipes on the web harms anyone. It certainly doesn't harm home cooks. It doesn't harm authors, who don't make their money by coming up with clever recipes. It doesn't harm professional recipe developers, who work directly with chefs. It doesn't harm chefs, who never see their business drop off after publishing a cookbook. At the very worst it's discourteous to post a recipe from someone's book without bringing their name along. I've developed recipes for my column, and I'd love it if they were well-liked enough that people copied them. Would I prefer to retain the credit? Sure, who wouldn't? But it's no change out of my pocket if I don't.

This strikes me as completely separate from the issue of a journalist turning in a story with plagiariazed text or unattributed recipes.

Edited by mamster (log)

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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my understanding was that though olney did sue nelson, the case was settled out of court, meaning no precedent. further clouding the nelson issue is that his defense was that the recipes came from a class taught by james beard, who had given him permission to use them! (olney and beard were friendly)

Thanks for the clarification. . . Now I can tell my grandchildren (when I have some) about the time I was corrected by Russ Parsons!

I was wondering if you could share with us at some point, either in this thread or a new one, your experiences / advice on coming up with recipes and other food-related material under deadline pressure. Are your recipes thought up while you are writing the column, or taken from ones that you already have? How does testing take place?

For lurkers, here are some examples of Russ's writings from the LA Times (registration required).

Thanks!

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Thanks for the kind words. For me, the process of developing recipes and researching and writing stories is complicated and never seems to go the same way twice. Maybe if there's enough interest, someone will start a fresh thread, it seems like there are enough food writers who check in to make it interesting, even if they do tend to lurk quietly (and this means you, Paula Wolfert!).

As pertains to this thread, let me say that I have rather mixed emotions about the whole thing. In the first place, to be perfectly honest, I really do hope that none of my recipes are totally original. I mean, if I'm doing something that nobody in the history of cooking has done before, I'm pretty sure there's been a pretty good reason for it. I'm always reading cookbooks, new and old, and am constantly inspired by them. When a specific dish is the result of that inspiration, I always give credit, no matter how much I've altered it in the process of making it mine. After all, I want my readers to be able to share a great book almost as much as I want them to be able to share a great recipe.

With the Internet, there has been a major change in the way I feel about hte ownership of recipes I've created. It used to bug me when I saw recipes I knew were mine (specific language) that were reproduced without credit. Now, I take it as an homage. And, practically speaking, I figure I've already gotten paid for the recipe so what does it hurt if someone else uses it too.

On the other hand, I really don't regard myself as primarily a recipe developer. I think my strength is as a writer who can explain and get people excited about cooking, rather than someone who comes up with new and unusual dishes (see above).

I do have to say that I am still not so generous with facts. I take a lot of time and put a lot of pride in my research. And from time to time something will be reported in someone else's story that I know could really only have come from my work. I really do wish, in those cases, that people would be more generous about crediting sources.

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Rail Paul, I'm an underpaid freelancer.  When I turn in a story, it may not always be my best work, but I certainly make every effort to ensure that it is.  That means double-checking facts, testing recipes, and, hey, not turning it other people's work unquoted.  I'm in favor of better pay and benefits for freelancers (I've got the UAW card in my wallet to prove it), but if my goal is to get the Daily Gullet to double my salary, I'm not going to get there by doing shoddy work, and I think the vast majority of freelancers feel the same.

I would agree entirely. Among other things, the primary way an underpaid freelancer becomes an overpaid (laughing hysterically) staff journalist is by turning in good work. And while the definition of "good work" may well vary from person to person and publication to publication, it is almost never expanded to include somebody else's good work.

Furthermore, nobody forced this woman to become a freelance food journalist. Journalism tends to be viewed as something of a glamor gig -- though many of us here could probably point out the HUGE fallacies in that view -- and with some exceptions (being a movie star, being a supermodel, being a major league ball player), glamor gigs don't tend to pay fabulously well. If what you want is to make good money, to be paid really well for the hours you put in, then go into plumbing or consign yourself to building spreadsheet models in the bowels of Wall Street.

Yes, I know it's a miserable job market, and that journalists don't have a lot of options these days: The Courant writer may not have felt she had the choice of saying to her editor "Look, either boost my word-rate or find yourself a new foodie." But despite my generally leftist sympathies, I don't think a lousy salary is any excuse for lousy work. And it's particularly no excuse for appropriating someone else's work, stealing both the credit and the cash that, by rights, should belong to them.

Those who feel sympathy for the Courant writer can take some comfort in the fact that Jayson Blair is reportedly looking at a million-dollar deal. If she continues to follow his example, she may wind up in the chips after all.

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We can all be food writers if we could all plagiarize legally. You are paid to be on the spot , or original. As I have seen on most forums, those who profess to know much are nothing but cut and paste posters.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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But I'm not convinced that the existence of jillions of unattributed recipes on the web harms anyone. It certainly doesn't harm home cooks. It doesn't harm authors, who don't make their money by coming up with clever recipes. It doesn't harm professional recipe developers, who work directly with chefs. It doesn't harm chefs, who never see their business drop off after publishing a cookbook.

There are a lot of us who DO make our money coming up with recipes (clever or not), and few of us work exclusively with professional chefs...most of us develop those recipes in our own kitchens, working by ourselves or with an assistant.

We are often paid a fee per recipe, and for the rights for that recipe to be published for a specific length of time and in specific venues. Magazine x pays me $xxx for North American publishing rights in their magazine/web site for six months, after which the rights revert back to me. I may then choose to add the recipe to my next book, sell it again to another magazine (for a lesser fee) or sell it as part of a package of recipes to, say, a web site. That is MY intellectual property, and I see it appearing on a web site, with no attribution and no fee paid to me...multiplied by the hundreds of times it happens...

I also am sometimes paid for those "re-appearances", through Authors' Registry, which tracks the use of my work and gets me paid for it. Those payments are legally classified as royalties.

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