Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekend Wonderings: What do I do when a friend is selling my recipes?

I thought I'd share as a quick note that I'm finally on Twitter. You can find me there as @SwiftCraftyM and subscribe or like or whatever one does to follow someone. (Funnily enough, I couldn't get my whole real name or my silly nickname in there as there were too many characters!)

In this post, There are no old posts, Febe asks: I have a question about copy write of recipes. My neighbor is using my skincare recipes and "selling to friends and family." I spent two years working on my formulations and testing. I asked her to test and she asked for the recipes to make for herself. Lesson learned - I should not have shared. But, I thought she was my friend. Anyway. She changed some amounts but not the ingredients. Are there any guideline that govern this kind of activity? How does all that work if someone copies your recipe and sells the produce? 

That's really unfortunate that a friend would do that to you. I'm so sorry you've experienced this kind of betrayal. What's she has done is completely unethical and just plain mean. 

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know much about trademark or copyright, but my feeling is that I don't think there's anything you can do about this without spending a lot of money. And in the end, I suspect, she can say that it's her recipe because she altered the amount of this thing, increased the amount of that thing, and took this other thing out altogether for another thing. 

Are you comfortable bringing this up with her? Do you think talking to her will help? She might not stop selling things, but you might feel better sharing your feelings with her? 

I could be completely wrong here. I'd love to hear from someone more knowledgeable about the law than I am. I'm guessing from the spelling of "neighbour" as "neighbor", the original commenter is in America?


La Prairie Lady said...

Hello Susan

Unfortunately you can do nothing. if your recipes were approved by a chemist for sale and according to the law of our country, you could do something.
Too bad, you give us basic recipes and she is not smart enough to make her own recipes by changing a few ingredients.
You helped me to understand the chemistry of cosmetics and I thank you very much. You are a reference to all the sites I visit, even soaping site.
Thank you again

Susan Jae said...

People are so confused when it comes to copyright or patent. You have to makes sure it's "copyright"-able. Recipes are generally not copyright protected. They must be sufficiently creative enough to warrant protection under copyright law and most are not. When I see people selling "copyrighted" recipes, it makes me nuts. In the culinary world, they push for attribution which they should do in the skincare world as well (based on a recipe by... original recipe from...) A copyright extends to artistic, creative and very individualized expression. Most recipes are simply a listing of ingredients. Courts are very divided as to what line you have to cross to make your recipe copyright-able and most professional chefs don't even bother. A collection of recipes will, however, get copyright protection if they are in a tangible form (book/electronic or not) and are sufficiently unique enough to be considered creative works.

A single recipe is not going to receive protection. I would hold onto all your recipes until you are ready to spin them into a copyright-able medium (a book or collection). I don't care how creative a recipe is, you really can't be sure you're the only one who came up with it and you will definitely receive protection if you have a collection. In the meantime, tell your friend that attribution is ESSENTIAL and if you don't get it, she is blatantly ripping you off. Then hide the rest of your recipes until you publish them all at once.

Another avenue (much harder and more expensive) is to patent them. That's tough and I would read up on the pros and cons of that but if they are truly unique, at least look into i.

La Prairie Lady said...

I understand what you mean, make a cosmetics recipe is not like finding something extraordinary we've ever seen. You are right we are the first to want to duplicate the products of major brands. Now manufacturers are obliged to put all the ingredients, I'm sure they did not like revealing their secrets.

Christine Montano said...

I can speak to US copyright law. You cannot copyright a recipe. What gets copyrighted in the US is the actual way it is written up so someone cannot take a recipe written the exact Word for Word and sell it or republish it. However you can rearrange the wording, put the directions in your own words, with same ingedients and it's legal. Also if changing ingredients it is their own piece of writing that is copyrighted to them now. You do not file for a copyright. Once you have published somewhere it is automatically copyrighted. When you publish online you should put copyright and the year on it..

Karole G said...

Christine. I am a little confused are you saying a recipe is the same as a work of literature or reaserch.

Lise M Andersen said...

It is a sorry situation- experiencing someone taking your work and put their own name to it. As Christine Montane mentions above - rearranging the words even just a bit - is enough to where it is legal to put your own name on material that in effect is stolen.

Even if a picture or text is freely accessible - like, say, on a blog, there is an ethical side to copying someone else work and calling it ones own that I find utterly despicable.

Maria said...

That is a shame, but the others are correct that it is difficult to protect recipes using copyright even if you put them all into a book (the book is copyright protected and cannot be legally reproduced and sold as-is) Right now the courts are not feeling overly protective of most works (it varies from generation to generation, bu there are many right now who don't even want authors to be able to copyright for more than a few years! Copyright laws are constantly under attack "for the public good" meaning that some people believe a work should be free or that derivative works should be able to enrich the new author who went off and used the same characters--use of the same characters or world is currently protected by copyright.)

The bottom line is that if you don't want your recipe used, don't share it. If she isn't ethical enough to realize what she has done, talking to her isn't going to help, especially if she is making money from her projects.

Maria Schneider (I'm an author. Believe me, even filing for copyright, which I do with every novel, can only protect you so much!) I hope you can create new and even better recipes and put this experience behind you!!!

Febe said...

Thank you so much for your comments! I read the US Patent laws and also understand that the actual recipe isn't something you can protect. And I understand about "rearranging" or putting things in your own words part. Reading about copyright is also very interesting. You all have commented superbly on this subject! So much "good to know." This is a great resource and much appreciated.

I never thought i would be betrayed in such a way. Especially when i was lead to believe she was just using the recipes for herself. You know, like sharing a cake or jam and jelly recipe. I had no idea that she was, on the side, sharing them with her "family and friends." She says that her sister-in-law encouraged her to sell. You know, i have more ethics and integrity than to just open up and take advantage of someone like she has. In her closed group on Facebook, she did mention that her neighbor shared her (my) DIY skincare products. But that was it. I always told her that i was working, testing and perfecting my products to sell. I used her to test because she has sensitive skin. I wanted to know how they worked for that skin type.

Don't want to perpetuate a soap opera - so no more said about the situation from me here. The information on patent, copy write is very helpful to know. All of my recipes are under lock and key! I have launched my Facebook page, working on my website, have a logo, and bought my domain. Moving toward an official launch soon.

I am grateful for everyones input on the subject. Thanks again!

LS said...

This is something I, as a maker, have been thinking about a lot. Because I follow FDA rules, and list all my ingredients in order of amount, it's pretty easy for an experienced formulator to get pretty close, if she wants to. In that sense, my formulas aren't secret. So while of course I think that the products I make are fabulous, I also recognize that business is more than the contents of the bottle or box. It's how you present yourself, your ethics, your employment practices (when you get to that size), your choices around sourcing, packaging, and especially how you treat your customers and (if you have them) your wholesale stockists. So rock on, doing what you do and shake it off! Good luck!

Susan Jae said...

Copyright law does not protect recipes that are merely a listing of ingredients. That is just not copyright protected. When you write an article on the internet or even a blog post, that is copyright if it's your individual and original expression. Writing a list of ingredients and saying what to do with them is NOT copyright protected. If there is some substantial part of the recipe that is original and creative - SUBSTANTIAL - it may be copyright protected. But just listing ingredients and saying what to do with those ingredients is not copyright protected.

When I read people saying, "This recipe is copyright protected..." - no it's not. In most cases. If you write, "When I was a little girl my grandmother made me the most wonderful soap right in her kitchen...she added (not obvious ingredient 1) and (not obvious ingredient 2) to (fairly common soap recipe). And when she was done making the soap, she would (not obvious way of curing). That is how I make and cure my soap to this day. THAT is copyright protectable for the most part (not the fairly common soap recipe part). The story plus individual, creative narrative of ingredients is what is protected. But had she listed 12 ingredients of a common soap recipe and added the 2 non-obvious ones, not copyright protected.

I know that we all have to deal with people that blatantly steal our stuff and that is unfortunate. But honestly, I think the best thing to do is to spread the word that if you take my recipe, give me credit and once you know what you're doing, please make it your own. Just ripping someone off is not okay and leads to this protection mentality that hurts us all.

I'm not after anyone's customers. If you use my recipe exactly as I write it, please attribute it to me or "based on a recipe from..." That's very polite and it keeps us from feeling ripped off. I've done a lot of work around customizing recipes I find everywhere but I try to remember to let people know where my sources come from (this blog being one of them). I give credit where credit is due.

Recipes are, for the most part, NOT copyright protected. You do not need to file for a copyright for an individual creation that is substantially your own and it's protected, but it would be hard to find a recipe that fits that description. That is reserved for articles, blog posts and the like. It's rare that a recipe would be.

In the very very competitive culinary world, chefs don't do it. They believe in sharing and caring and helping each other. I honestly think that more of that attitude needs to be imparted to the skincare community. I've been hearing a lot of "mine mine mine" lately and I find it troubling. Whenever I hear someone say, "I don't share my recipes ever..." I think that's really too bad. No one was born knowing how to do this. All of us should have some basic recipes that we share for they know what they're doing and we all represent our community in the best way possible. I don't want handmade products being made by people who have no clue and then that reflects badly on all of us. If you want to keep your advanced recipes to yourself, fine...but give some of the newbies a break and a helping hand.

Okay, off my soapbox now.

Susan Jae said...

Febe, I meant to say that I really think that what she is doing is wrong and not okay. Have you told her that the soaping community does not operate that way? It's just not okay to do that.

The majority of soapers and skincare makers are very good people. I usually openly and willingly share a lot of my recipes. Nothing is spectacularly unique to me. I also believe that when one of us does well, we all do well. If I can help you represent home skincare formulators well, I will be more than willing to do that. I think it's important. I give percentages a lot of times for a "basic" this or that. And then I tell people how to customize it and make it their own. I give them lots of options (you can add this or this or you can leave this out...)

I think (my own opinion) that this ripping off nonsense has led to this selling of basic recipes nonsense. I DO believe in paying for advanced recipes with advanced techniques and ingredients that the "regular" person might not know how to handle. That is something that is hard to come by and you should have to pay for that knowledge. But I'm not paying for a basic bath bomb recipe and no one is telling me it's copyright protected because I'm pretty sure it's not. And the price of some recipes is simply outrageous. $25.00 for ONE recipe? I can buy 2 books for that money. Crazy.

I don't like either end of the spectrum...those who don't do anything original and those who think that everything they do is so special, they can't share any of it. I think that both hurts us all.
I'm really sorry you've been the victim of an unethical person. I hope you are able to communicate to her that it is not okay and doesn't represent her or our community well.