London Chef Elizabeth Haigh’s Cookbook Withdrawn After Plagiarism Allegations

From Eater London:

The worlds of London food and international cookbooks are rocking after far-reaching allegations of plagiarism by a highly regarded chef. Cookbook publisher Bloomsbury Absolute has withdrawn Makan, the debut cookbook by Mei Mei owner Elizabeth Haigh, after allegations of plagiarism from Sharon Wee, the author of Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen, a cookbook memoir published by Marshall Cavendish in 2012.

Wee issued a statement on her Instagram on Thursday 7 October, saying that she had been “distressed to discover that certain recipes and other content from my book had been copied or paraphrased without my consent in Makan by Elizabeth Haigh, and I immediately brought this matter to the attention of the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury Absolute.” Wee’s book is set to be republished in November 2021.

Eater contacted Wee, Haigh, and Bloomsbury for comment. Wee told Eater that she cannot elaborate on her statement for legal reasons; a spokesperson for Haigh said, “Elizabeth Haigh is not able to answer your questions, for legal reasons.” Bloomsbury Absolute initially returned an out-of-office auto-reply, before pointing to a statement given to industry publication The Bookseller, which followed a report in the Daily Mail: “This title has been withdrawn due to rights issues.”

. . . .

The email then presented examples from both books side-by-side:

Wee:

“My mother, like many of her friends, placed their most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy access while they cooked. That often meant a plastic tray . . . where there were small bottles of soy sauces, sesame oil, and jars of minced garlic, salt and sugar. In the past there would also have been a metal container to hold recycled cooking oil.”

Haigh:

“My mother . . . kept her most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy reach of where she cooked. That often meant a plastic tray full of little jars of oils, crispy-fried shallots or garlic, crushed garlic, salt and sugar. There was also usually an old metal pot for recycled or discarded frying oil.”

Wee (on transcribing her mother’s recipes):

“It faced many challenges along the way. It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daum (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

Haigh:

“It faced many challenges along the way. It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements . . . and learning the different daun (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

Wee:

“Ginger is thought to ‘pukol angin’ (beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). Hence, post-natal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind.’ In my case, a backache, especially in the winter, was often remedied with a knob of ginger, with the sliced surface dipped in brandy. The brandied ginger was used to rub my back and it left red streak marks, indicating the wind in my flesh and bones. It always worked.

The ginger flavour is strongest just beneath its skin. Therefore, leave the skin on to get the most of the flavour.”

Haigh:

“Ginger is thought to have healing properties – pukol angin (to beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). This is why postnatal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind’ . . . The strongest ginger is just beneath the skin, so to get the most flavour out of it don’t peel it.”

Further allegations followed, suggesting that recipes had been lifted from more than one source. Singaporean poet and critic Daryl Lim shared two Instagram posts detailing similarities between Makan and other recipes, from blogs and other cookbooks, as well as between Haigh’s book and Sharon Wee’s.

Link to the rest at Eater London

Are Recipes and Cookbooks Protected by Copyright?

From The Copyright Alliance:

Recently, the owner of a website that aimed to “fix online recipes” by removing ads and stories apologized and removed the website after receiving complaints via social media. While the website hoped to create an easier reading experience for visitors, the owner acknowledged that a great deal of time, money, and effort go into creating these recipes and the content that accompanies them.

Given the recent controversy, we thought this would be a good time to discuss the copyrightability of recipes. Can you copyright a recipe and, if so, which elements? What about copyright protection for cookbooks?

What Copyright Law Protects

Copyright law protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. So, a work needs to be original, independently created by a human author, and possess at least some minimal degree of creativity while also being set in a sufficiently permanent form.

Recipes easily meet most of these requirements. For instance, they usually satisfy the “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” factor by being recorded in a cookbook or website or even on a piece of paper. They are also independently created by a human author — usually someone’s grandma, it would seem. However, despite meeting most of the requirements, standing alone, recipes are usually not protected by copyright.

Can You Copyright a Recipe?

Recipes are usually not protected by copyright due to the idea-expression dichotomy. The idea-expression dichotomy creates a dividing line between ideas, which are not protected by copyright law, and the expression of those ideas, which can be protected by copyright law.

There are rare times where the idea and the expression of the idea are so intertwined that there is only one way, or very few ways, to express the idea. When this is the case, that expression of the idea is not protected by copyright law. A recipe’s list of ingredients, or simple directions, is so intertwined with the idea of that recipe that there are very few ways to express this idea; so, a simple list of ingredients or simple directions will not usually be protected by copyright.

Based on this reasoning, the United States Copyright Office Compendium, the Office’s manual for examiners, states that a mere listing of ingredients or contents is not copyrightable, as lists are not protected by copyright law (chapter 314.4(F)). The Office has also stated that a “simple set of directions” is uncopyrightable.

In addition, courts have found that recipes are wholly factual and functional, and therefore uncopyrightable. As the Sixth Circuit described in Tomaydo-Tomahdo, LLC v. Vozary, “the list of ingredients is merely a factual statement, and as previously discussed, facts are not copyrightable. Furthermore, a recipe’s instructions, as functional directions, are statutorily excluded from copyright protection.”

Further, in Publications Int’l., Ltd. v. Meredith Corp., the Seventh Circuit explained that certain recipes may be copyrightable, as there is a difference between barebones recipes and those that “convey more than simply the directions for producing a certain dish.”

Recipes can be protected under copyright law if they are accompanied by “substantial literary expression.” This expression can be an explanation or detailed directions, which is likely why food and recipe bloggers often share stories and personal anecdotes alongside a recipe’s ingredients.

A recipe can also be protected by copyright law if it creatively describes or explains the cooking or baking process connected to the list of ingredients. Even if the description of the recipe is sufficiently creative and copyrightable, the copyright will not cover the recipe’s ingredient list, the underlying process for making the dish, or the resulting dish itself, which are all facts. It will only protect the expression of those facts. That means that someone can express the recipe in a different way — with different expression — and not infringe the recipe creator’s copyright.

Cookbooks Can Be Protected as Copyrightable Compilations

What about a compilation of recipes, like those found in a cookbook? A cookbook can be protected under copyright law as a compilation if the selection, arrangement, and coordination of the included recipes is creative.

The copyright for a compilation does not cover the individual works included in the compilation, such as the individual recipes within the cookbook.

Link to the rest at The Copyright Alliance

Even if it were possible to copyright recipes, the Guardian’s account indicates that the offended chef was not the creator of the recipes and that the chef transcribed her mother’s recipes:

It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daum (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

PG claims no special expertise about UK copyright law, but some quick research on the UK Copyright Licensing Agency website indicates that recipes may not be copyrightable under UK law for the same rationale as applies to recipes under US law.

From The Guardian in 2006:

Can a recipe – as some of the world’s top restaurateurs and food experts are now asking – ever be considered intellectual property?

An altogether more complex dish has prompted this debate on the online food forum, eGullet, this week. The recipe, in brief: prawns are pureed using an enzyme called transglutiminase, extruded into a noodle, cooked, and served with smoked yoghurt, paprika and nori. Not the sort of meal that two chefs separated by 10,355 miles are likely to invent at the same time.

Still, identical versions of this dish did appear simultaneously on the websites of two cutting-edge restaurants – Melbourne’s Interlude, run by a 31-year-old British chef, Robin Wickens, a former student of Raymond Blanc; and Wylie Dufresne, head chef/owner of WD-50, a restaurant in New York’s trendy Lower East Side. The former, it quickly transpired, had copied the latter, without crediting the innovator. Interlude also appeared to have produced direct replicas of recipes from several other restaurants, leading to one eGullet poster to warn Wickens to prepare to be labelled a “fraud”.

Wickens told the Guardian that the near-identical dishes were a result of a research trip to WD-50 and said that, “At no time did I try and claim that I invented any of the dishes that I had experienced in the US and recreated at Interlude.”

“It might be a bloody cheek. But so what?” says restaurant reviewer Egon Ronay. “It goes on all the time. Chefs travel the world looking for dishes and try to imitate them in their own menus. That’s how good cooking spreads – it’s what food is all about. Frankly, in my view, it doesn’t matter a damn.”

Dufresne is reluctant to criticise Wickens, who recently sent him a letter of apology. Whatever his justification, Wickens has opened a pandora’s box. As an eGullet editorial put it: “We believe the Interlude controversy is not a simple matter of a lone Australian restaurant copying a few dishes from halfway around the world. Rather, it’s one of the most significant issues facing the global culinary community today.”

But can you copyright a recipe? Could Heston Blumenthal register his roast spiced cod with castelluccio lentils? Or St John’s Fergus Henderson his roast bone marrow with parsley salad? No, says Alex Papakyriacou, of intellectual property law firm Briffa. “Case law suggests that reproducing a written recipe in the preparation of a dish is not copyright infringement. The same goes for recipes that have been communicated aurally or by a chef deciphering the ingredients and method involved in the preparation of a recipe by sampling a dish prepared to it.”

Nor is it possible to patent a recipe, either in the UK or US, because the organic development of food will never constitute an “inventive step”. In short: you will never know definitively where your pizza or prawn noodle originated.

But if there is no legal basis crediting a dish, is there a moral incentive? “Only if it’s a signature dish by one of the very few truly original chefs in the world,” says Richard Corrigan, the chef owner of two of London’s top restaurants, Lindsay House and Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill. “Everyone has been robbed in the middle of London, it’s normal. But it doesn’t bother me; I’m sometimes tickled. Every restaurant in London is after my bread recipe, for example, and it’s not easy to keep it a secret.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Even if it were possible to copyright recipes, the Guardian’s account indicates that the offended chef was not the creator of the recipes and that the chef transcribed her mother’s recipes:

It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daum (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes).”

In her Instagram post decrying the use of these recipes, Ms. Wee wrote, “I wrote my book in loving memory of my mother. I credit her and her peers for their anecdotes, recipes and cooking tips. This was their story.”

PG suggests that this statement, if true, could be interpreted to mean that all sorts of people besides Ms. Wee’s mother used the recipes in her cookbook and even Ms. Wee’s mother was not the creator of the recipes which Ms. Wee wishes to take credit and prevent others from copying.

The fact that Ms. Wee was the first person to write down these recipes in English and publish them doesn’t make her any sort of a creator of the type that copyright laws are designed to protect.

To be clear, plagiarism may rightly be regarded as bad behavior, but unless the plagiarist violates copyright law, there’s no foul under US law.

3 thoughts on “London Chef Elizabeth Haigh’s Cookbook Withdrawn After Plagiarism Allegations”

  1. “a great deal of time, money, and effort go into creating these recipes and the content that accompanies them.”

    The plagiarism complaints listed had nothing to do with individual recipes so much as they had to do with accompanying content.

    As far as that sort of content goes, there is so much of it because when posted online, ads are interspersed with that content, and the ads are what monitize recipe sites.

  2. This is why the old-fashioned Junior League of Eastern Spottsylvania-style cookbook with page after page of recipes with almost nothing else just isn’t done any more. Not only did the 1976 Act’s codification of fair use (and the revisions in the 1988 Act Over There, for both fair dealing and what is copyrightable in the first place) torpedo that approach, but more-recent judicial decisions have thoroughly rejected “time, money, and effort” as a basis for copyright protection.

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