Guess where I am! Actually, this shouldn’t be too hard to guess, because it’s the same place I go every summer: Rome. Rome is a fantastic city for many reasons, but one of my absolute favorites is the food. Pizza. Gelato. Pasta. Yum. Of course, I’m a poor graduate student, so I can’t really afford to go out for dinner every night. The first time I came here was for an 8-week stint, and I quickly learned the art of making a pasta sauce that takes exactly as long to make as it takes to boil water and cook pasta. This is one of those dishes. It has zero authentic Roman pedigree (unlike, say, a cacio e pepe or amatriciana), but it’s fantastic and while I say that it makes 3 servings, Harry and I have never once had leftovers. And the recipe is, more or less, mine! Or is it?
If you’re a food blogger, especially one with a background in academics, you’re probably deeply concerned with the intellectual property issues associated with using other people’s recipes. Or maybe you aren’t a food blogger or an academic, and you’re just interested in that stuff. I don’t know your life.
The way I understand it, the basic rules are as follows: lists of measurements and ingredients can’t be copyrighted. What can be copyrighted are the headnotes and instructions (and, of course, the images). So essentially, if you copy the ingredients list from a recipe but rewrite the instructions, you should be fine, although of course you should always mention your sources.
Furthermore – although I’m not sure if this is just convention – supposedly if you make three or more changes to the ingredients list, the recipe itself becomes ‘yours’. I’ve always found that deeply confusing. I often make a pumpkin bread pudding recipe from Gourmet (RIP) and double the spices and leave out the butter, but it plainly isn’t as much ‘my’ recipe as one that I completely made up myself, start to finish. What you have instead is a spectrum, where a recipe is just “from” another source (i.e., the ingredients are the same and the methods haven’t really been changed), or “slightly adapted from”, or “heavily adapted from”, then “inspired by”, then “original”.
(If you’re curious about the difference between ‘heavily adapted from’ and ‘inspired by’ – no matter what the opening credits claim, the movie Troy is inspired by the Iliad. Briseis killing Agamemnon is pretty much the point where we cross the adaptation line.)
Like the bread pudding recipe (which I will share someday), this recipe hails from Gourmet. But while that bread pudding was adapted from the original, I’m going to claim that this one was only inspired by the magazine version. I came across the original on Epicurious recently and was shocked at how different mine is. I use fresh fettuccine instead of dried, dried figs instead of fresh (I tried it once with fresh figs, and it turned the entire dish pink), no onion or garlic, storebought Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, the juice and zest of an entire lemon, and more wine. That’s a lot of changes. It doesn’t make the recipe mine, per se, but it certainly feels like I’ve left my mark on it.