Friday, 23 December 2011

Pondering the Concept of Intellectual Property

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Writing my own blog has often caused me to ponder the concept of intellectual property, and who profits from it. I don't really have any answers. I'm just using this co-operative blog post to ruminate on some of the questions, and hoping to hear what some of you have to say.

My most recent preoccupation with the concept has come about because of a hot sauce recipe. I have a recipe for jalapeno green sauce, and later adapted it using red cayenne peppers. A few years ago, I was experimenting using Habanero chiles. Now, a few years before that, I'd bought a bottle of Habanero hot sauce in Belize, and was so impressed with it that I'd saved the ingredient list from the label. Using a combination of the original recipe techniques and ingredients from the list, then a few tweaks here and there in subsequent years, and I finally have a pretty, tasty hot sauce.

I made a double batch of the stuff this past summer - so I could give some as Christmas gifts. I made up a label for the bottles, and wanted to show them off on my blog. As I did that,  I debated about posting the recipe (in fact, a first draft of the recipe was there, on an old post. I went back and deleted it for now). I started my blog in order to share my recipes with my family. But I've done searches on-line, and nothing like my current hot sauce recipe shows up anywhere. However, and maybe you've noticed the same phenomenon, there's a recipe for Belize-style Habanero hot sauce using carrots that shows up multiple times, especially in quite a few recipe compilation websites. Someone somewhere developed and posted that Habanero carrot recipe, but there's now no way to track it back to who and where it started. Admit it, despite saying your blog is copyrighted, don't re-post without permission, yada yada yada, you really can't put the Genie back in the bottle. Once you post something nowadays it's common property.

Those recipe compilation sites have advertising, so someone somewhere is profiting from the intellectual property of others. I don't really mind someone making a batch of hot sauce for their own use, but I don't know if I want my hot sauce recipe to be common knowledge. Realistically, I probably never will go into commercial production of it, but I don't think I want that option taken from me.

Maybe 25 years ago, I ripped a recipe for One-Hour French Bread out of a newspaper. I don't even remember which one - I just have the ripped and yellowed clipping. It's a great recipe - one of the earliest ones I shared on my own blog, and again on this one. It's been interesting watching where and how it turns up out there on the world wide web. Sometimes someone links back to my blog, sometimes they'll cite it as Sadge's bread recipe. Occasionally, I find it's been copied and re-posted wrong - one blogger left out the rising time, so anyone using that post is going to have a tasty doorstop. The photo is on Pinterest, as are a few more of my posts (which I really don't mind, since that site links back to my blog, and I like the additional traffic). Sometimes it's a bit of a pain watermarking my photos, but at least the name of my blog is out there when someone re-posts a photo.

I crochet, so wonder about patterns too. I made some potholders from a pattern in an old book, and realized it was wrong - the first one turned out lopsided. I made the necessary corrections to make them turn out square, and have since used my corrected pattern a few more times. My last set are finally getting pretty worn, so I'll be making some new ones soon. When they're finished, I'll post a photo, but can I post the corrected version of the pattern, and call it mine? Can I post the pattern at all?

Copyright law is so confusing, and I want to do the right thing. I inherited some really old crochet and knit pattern booklets - the oldest is from 1916. Can I scan and share some of those? How about Victory ones from WWII?  Old Workbasket booklets? Patterns I bought in the 1970's? Most everything is certainly out of print by now, but does someone still hold the copyright?

I've seen vintage Aunt Martha's embroidery patterns posted on-line, but some of those same ones are still for sale in my local craft store. Is that sort of thing ok? I know there's something about so many years have passed, but then something else about if it's been renewed, or is still in print. If I buy a pattern from someone, can I then make and sell the things I've made? Does it make a difference if it's at my local farmer's market or in an on-line store? Can the pattern-designer set and enforce a limit on how many I make?

And what about my own writings elsewhere? I've been a writer on this co-op since the beginning. I've seen quite a few co-writers come and go over the years. I wonder, does everyone still have access to the posts they wrote, or did the administrators take their names off the permissions list? Will I still have access to my own work if I quit? For the most part, I research and write different things here than on my own blog. What if I'd like to put some of the older posts on my own blog? Should I copy and post them, and have them in two places? Should I just delete them here, or put a "this post has moved" notice in their place?

And I don't even want to start in regarding the music business - debates and enforcement of that issue has been on-going for decades. As I said in the beginning, I don't have any answers. These are just some things I've been thinking about. Your thoughts?


Annodear said...

I've heard that recipes cannot be copyrighted. Don't remember where I heard that, tho (regarding the recipe sites with advertising links).

As for the rest.... good questions! A little too "thinky" for me ~ but interesting in passing ;-)

knutty knitter said...

I don't know either but I will say that I simply don't care if people make my patterns for sale. I would object if they turned up in a book without due mention of who made the pattern up and royalties would be nice if that were the case but thats about it really.

I'd really rather be open source all things considered and it does annoy me when patterns aren't because how else will they get perpetuated and spread to other people. To say nothing about the fact that most patterns are simply recast from older patterns and will cease to evolve if copyrited. Like your recipe really :) Where would that be without the tweaks.

I'm also firmly of the opinion that copyrights should only belong to the original writer/artist and should die when they do. If not before. That was their original intent and I think its a good one.

viv in nz

K said...

According to the USA Copyright Office:

"Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook."

As for copyright dying with the author/artist, I disagree somewhat. Think about books/characters that outlive their author (Snoopy, Lord of the Rings, etc.) Should there be a free-for-all on licensing these stories/characters upon the author's death, or should the family be allowed to see the proceeds or the author's work, just as any other tangible asset can be inherited? An inventor's patents do not expire at death, and neither should copyright.

In Canada, copyright lasts 50 years after the author's death, but this may vary by country.

If you are thinking of selling or licensing your hot sauce, I agree - don't pot the recipe. But if not, why not share?

Anonymous said...

I understand the need to protect your creations but take exception when someone takes a basic idea that has been made by home crafters for some time, not make any real changes or developments to the idea, and marks it as their own with threats to prosecute anyone who tries to sell their own version in craft fairs or online (for example cloth diapers, basic knit mittens, or wool dryer balls).
I see this a lot on knitting blogs. I for one can't follow a published pattern to save my life but being a pretty good knitter in my own right have made items that look similar to some "protected" blog patterns without knowing previously or trying to copy anyone. Does that mean the blogger can come after me for selling them? Is some judge out there really going to compare our stitch counts?

ceridwen said...

Theres one whole "can of worms" to serve for a Christmas meal - LOL.

There is very very little that is "new under the sun". The vast vast majority of ideas have come up before at some point over the last few hundred years and are just being tweaked when they come up again.

I get that if there is a genuinely new idea - then any kudos/cash thats coming should go to the originator of the idea and not the copycat person of that idea.

personally - I'm quite happy to give away what totally original ideas I have - as long as no-one else subsequently claims any kudos/cash that comes from it (ie because its mine - not theirs).

I am currently pondering whether the whole concept of Growth our Society worships so much boils down to copycatters copying someone else's business idea/intellectual property/etc - and the originator has to come up with something else perforce because of the copycatter and thence some "Growth" the originator neither needed nor wanted (of themselves) happens just in order to keep on top of this copycatting...

Well - I know what I mean - LOL - if I havent explained it very well....

Will keep pondering on this...

rhonda jean said...

Sadge, it's obvious from the answers here that copyright law is complex and most people, including myself, don't understand it fully. However, your written work here is protected by copyright when you create it. It doesn't have to be registered or marked with a C.But if you want to sue for breach of copyright in America, the work must be registered at the copyright office. In most countries, copyright lasts for for 50 years after the death of the author. When you write something and sell it, you don't sell the words, you sell the permission to publish it.

Regarding your work here, old writers are taken off the permissions list, simple because they no longer need to have access to behind the scenes. You could cut and paste your own work back to your blog or ask me to remove your work, which I would do.

Mistress Cynica said...

Copyright on works published before 1925 has expired, so no problem posting patterns from 1916. If the WWII pattern books are government issue, they aren't covered by copyright.

Chris said...

I'm all for open source as well. I've learned so much from people willing to share their knowledge. If I gain from someone else's free contribution in the public domain, it would seem wrong for me to withhold at at my end.

I actually like some of the Polyface Farms principles (Joel Salatin & family) and I'm probably misquoting, but it's generally along the lines of extending a hand to others competing in the same business, as opposed to locking them out with trademarks and legal jargon. It follows the ideal to help one another build better businesses together.

Of course, I know there are plenty of secret family recipes out there which are fiercely guarded, and I don't see anything wrong with that either. I respect the family cone of silence when it comes to recipes. ;)

There is probably no right or wrong answer, only interpretation of the law.