I was a little shocked to see this post over at Alosha’s Kitchen. The gist of it is that she was asked to take down a potato salad recipe by the publicity agent for Cooks Illustrated. Apparently, they don’t allow their recipes to be reproduced in print without permission, even with modifications. Especially with modifications.
She posted the entire email conversation, so go and read it. It’s fairly astonishing. I found it hard to believe that this kind of behavior is sanctioned by CI. I like their recipes, the magazine and the books, so I want to think the best of the company. Perhaps the publicity agent is acting as a rogue.
But still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So to speak.
The skinny is, in case you were wondering, that you can’t copyright recipes, which are basically a list of ingredients and directions for combining them. No recipe is really original, after all; even CI admits that. You can copyright the specific literary expression used in writing a recipe, but if you rewrite the recipe and modify the ingredients, then it becomes yours.
And asking cooks not to modify a recipe? That’s just bizarre. Isn’t that what the writers at CI do? Melissa cites the example of the no-knead bread recipe that was first published in the New York Times. I believe a modified version of this was published in a recent issue of CI. So I guess what they’re saying is that once they “perfect” a recipe, then no one should modify it because it’s, well, perfect.
I hate to tell them this, but I have cooked a lot of CI recipes, and while many of them are quite good, some of them were spectacularly imperfect.
Good for Melissa, she reposted the recipe. It is a basic potato salad recipe similar to what I would make, although I don’t use sour cream. The point is, nobody can copyright potato salad!
UPDATE: It’s a day after I wrote this post, and I’m still steamed. Unless Cooks Illustrated redeems itself soon, I’ll probably be calling myself a former subscriber.