On Recipies

Dec 26th, 2005

On going home I decided to bring my recipe book, a small hard backed notebook which I use to collect recipes from different sources. On copying down various family favourites I was struck by the similarities between recipe distribution and the attitudes of the ‘copyleft’ movement.

My mums collection of recipes from various sources: friends, relatives, magazines, books and supermarket recipe cards. In some cases the source was recorded in others it had been lost to time. In the corners of pages were written notes, mushrooms may be left out, a bit stodgy if you leave it in too long, use honey if you lack brown sugar. These changes are passed on as the recipe changes.

Yet recipe books still sell, and there haven’t been lawsuits cracking down on recipe sharing, although whether this would still be the case if they were distributed over file share networks I don’t know. As an example of free flow of information recipes have been around for years and demonstrate that the process is workable and can still be profitable.

Yet undoubtedly the situation is different for film and music, both of which are far more static than recipes. You don’t find the same kind of variations a track with the guitar solo removed for instance, but when these changes do occur they annoy the original artist. Unlike a recipe where the method may be simplified in copying it down music sounds almost identical. So where does this difference in attitude actually lie, why don’t we treat music the same as recipes? Does the difference lie in the fact that music is a finish product whereas recipes are not; the finished product is the dish they instruct you to produce. Perhaps its a difference in ease, while you will probably only copy a single recipe from a book at a time, it is fairly easy to download an entire album. If I published the entirety of one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks here then it is unlikely that the publishers would sit idly by, indeed, I expect I’d get a complaint if I copied a recipe out word for word, easily identifiable. So perhaps it is just an issue of scale.

Either way, the distribution of recipes demonstrate that ‘copyleft’ attitudes are nothing new, but they also suggest that the system can work, and has interesting implications if we are able to shift our attitudes with regard to recipes to other media.

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