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?