By the time the work was published, the plagiarism claims had been made, yet, according to the authors of more than 150 cookbooks on Amazon, none of them alerted Amazon or their publishers. All in all, the titles collectively generate more than $1.6m (£1.13m) annually. The authors now face lawsuits from 40 former students, who have all been awarded $25,000.
We suspect Cookbook Owners never knew exactly who owned a recipe. ‘Authorhip documents’ are often long series of opinions about every legal aspect of a recipe. They can give every detail – a harvest of careful research with various odds and ends of information at its disposal.
With a specific recipe that’s been around for years and is shared between cooks, the source can’t be as clear. Because of the heavy reliance on attribution, the recipe can be attributed to whoever has cooked it, yet gets wrapped up in other people’s names and lives. “A recipe can be an original source or it can be a carbon copy of something,” Daniel Schwarz, adjunct professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, tells us.
“They might take out the key ingredient – the breakdowns – and put in their own,” he says. This could be because the recipes say they originate from one place, he says, and the authors mistakenly claim they are the first people to use it. Often it’s a young chef with very little originality.
Serve a recipe with the whole arrangement of words, fonts, etc. apart from one or two words and chances are a recipe will look familiar to a reader. In this case, which has snowballed into a class action against 25 publishers – including McGraw Hill, Random House, and Penguin Random House – Amazon was the difference between the legacy recipes retaining legitimacy and becoming hoaxes.
If someone finds a recipe, says Schwarz, they should assume the person who owns it is not the one who used it in the first place. So the user of a recipe should beware – especially when they share it across social media.