Thursday, July 28, 2011

Plagiarism in the (Frum) Press


Please see updates at the bottom.

**the following post was not written by Stam. It was written by a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous and who does not have posting privileges on SerandEz :)**

My first taste of Internet plagiarism came in a bittersweet form.

It started out in my email inbox, with the subject line "FWD: fwd: fwd: FWD: fwd: very funny!! MUST READ!!!!!" Needless to say, I was hardly intrigued. I started to read, and the words looked very familiar.

As you may have guessed, I'd written the email. Not as an email, but as a post on my blog. My first thought was "cool, people like my blog posts enough to send them around as email forwards." But as my eyes scanned the email for the credit for this "must read, very funny" email, I was exceedingly disappointed. No name, no link, nothing.

You know those famous emails that are credit "author unknown?" Well now I know how they start.

My second taste also came in the form of an email, but this one was a link to a "frum" forum, where some poster was reaping compliments off of a post...copied directly from my blog. This time it hurt a little more than it felt nice. Someone was gaining off of my writing (even something as minor as a compliment), and it wasn't me. How is that fair?

When asked by my friend if I was going to complain, my response was simple. "It doesn't pay. It's not as if they are making money off of me or my writing."

But what if they were? What if a magazine published my writing, but sent a check to somebody else?

Sounds crazy? I thought so too.

Then I opened up the Ami Magazine. I love to cook and bake, so naturally, I turned straight to the recipes section. One of the recipes really popped out, and not because of it's mouthwatering picture, or the delicious sounding idea. No, this one stuck out because it made me feel a strong sense of deja vu.

"I've seen this before," I thought to myself, quickly opening my favorite baking blog. And I wasn't wrong. I had seen it before, almost word for word the same. The name was almost the same, as was the picture. I looked at the page of the magazine, then again. No credit, no "reprinted with permission." Just the misleading impression that the columnist had come up with this recipe on her own.

Doesn't this seem wrong? How can a Frum magazine lift a recipe directly off a website and expect no repercussions? "Be dan lekaf zechus," my friends warned. So I was. I assumed that Ami wasn't aware that they had printed a stolen recipe. So I sought out the editor on twitter, and received the following (mocking) responses:

"There's nothing new under the sun." And "don't go nuts."

If I were an honest magazine editor who had just discovered I published a stolen recipe, I would be the one going nuts.

Here's the link to the original recipe and the page in Ami:

If you think this is wrong, please let the Ami know.
Call them at 718.534.8800
Email or the editor-in-chief directly:
Or tweet the editor @victoriadwek.
Or let them know how you feel on Facebook.
If you're a blogger, please spread the word.
Together, we can teach the Frum publishing world that plagiarism isn't going to be tolerated.

**this post was not written by Stam. It was written by a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous and who does not have posting privileges on SerandEz :)**

UPDATE 1 (by Ezzie):

The chief editor of Ami responded immediately to an e-mail asking about the incident:
I will check this out [...] and get back to you. One thing I can tell you now. Ami magazine does not want to plagiarize. And if that happened we will make amends
They told another e-mailer (via the comments section here) as well:
This was brought to my attention yesterday.
As I told the writer of that e-mail, Ami certainly does not want to plagiarize.

I will get back to you as soon as I get in touch with the person who wrote the recipe for us and understand what is going on here.
So far, the response has been quick and appropriate; we'll see what reply is given later.

UPDATE 2 (by Ezzie):

After no further response, I e-mailed the chief editor again. I have yet to receive a reply (it has been a number of hours).

On Friday I was told that the writer was upset and felt she was misunderstood and wanted me to e-mail her. I noted that she could e-mail me herself directly if she wished, but have yet to receive an e-mail from her.

**this post was not written by Stam. It was written by a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous and who does not have posting privileges on SerandEz :)**


  1. Horrible. I have never understood why people think that plagiarism is okay.

    It disgusts me that almost every article on the major "frum" news sites are plagiarized from other media as well.

    This, and particularly the attitude the editor had in response, is disgusting. It is mind-boggling that such a person is an "editor" if this is their attitude toward plagiarism.

  2. I don't think legally someone can take recourse for a blog.

    However if a better known newspaper were to copy someones blog, you can bet the blogger would sue for compensation.

    I think only if you put a copyright on your blog then it's legally enforceable, but the onus may be on you to prove the plagiarism. I have one at the bottom of mine.
    I think it's a standard default on most blogs.

    I'm no lawyer though.

    I think I will look into this for myself. (not that anyone would ever plagiarize any of my poorly written ramblings)

    Good article, it's an important topic. I hate to hear about Jewish people sleazily stealing other peoples work. It's a terrible shame.

    I work with a lot of magazine publishers (not in the jewish world though), and I know this kind of stuff would never fly.

  3. JWG - I think that you can actually copyright a blog, but I could be wrong. I'm reasonably certain there have been uproars in media over various personalities or sites having been found to have ripped off from blogs.

    Regardless, it's certainly worth noting and showing how wrong it is as you said.

  4. Why is this post not loshon hara? Give me one rationalization.

  5. This feels very wrong, and it's terrible that some frum sites will copy content from other sources without attributing it.

    To be fair in this case, plagiarism with regard to recipes goes back a long way, before electronic media. I could be wrong, but I think I heard once (when my community was making a fundraiser cookbook) that it's illegal to sell other people's recipes without permission--BUT if you make any change to the ingredients or baking process, you're off the hook.

    In this case, Ami magazine kept all of the ingredients the same, but altered the baking time by about two minutes. So, it may be that what they've done is not considered recipe plagiarism.

    But that said, it still feels extremely wrong.

  6. actually, the pictures and the recipe are different! what is this person talking about????
    there is vanilla sugar in the ami version's p.b. filling, and the instructions are different too. Can't it be possible that two people made peanut butter filled chocolate cookies? Have you never seen this concept before?!

  7. Ha ha, "nuts"! Classic.

  8. FWIW, blog posts are copyrightable. They fall under literary works. You don't need to "copyright" them - all works you create that are copyrightable are automatically protected as soon as you create them. If you think there's economic value to it (you think someone might copy it), it's a good idea to register it, because then there's a public record (it dissuades potential infringers) and you can get more damages in court (attorney fees, punitive, etc.). If you write a blog with a small readership, probably not worth it.

    With regards to the recipe, IIRC it's very hard to practically protect recipes. Copyright is only concerned with expression - you can freely copy the concept as long as the way you express it is different. That's why not all plagiarism counts copyright infringement. The problem with recipes is that you can easily change the way the recipe is expressed, and the parts that aren't - say the ingreident list, is often unlikely to qualify for protection because there is a limited way to give a list of ingredients, and thus, little creativity involved. Which is why if you want to keep your secret recipe, secret, don't register it, just keep it in a vault.

  9. Also, EVERY news item that is from a news agency or outside reporter, or is copied from a press release issued by any company or organization, should be credited properly.

    Also, I often see "news articles" touting healthy food supplements (or whatever product or service) sold by the writer! These should all be tagged as ADS.

  10. Maybe somebody will find this recipe on a clay tablet in some Sumerian ruin.

  11. >there is vanilla sugar in the ami version's p.b. filling, and the instructions are different too. Can't it be possible that two people made peanut butter filled chocolate cookies? Have you never seen this concept before?!

    You'd be right, except that she basically acknowledged that she took the recipe from the person writing the post. Her tweet says "There's nothing new under the sun. Google "recipe copyright laws." OK to use same ingredients." She didn't say "You're nuts and I never heard of you." It's reasonable to conclude that she did take the recipe.

    Anyway, while I agree with the principle (and I've been plagiarized too, in terms of duplicating my research) I'm not sure she's technically wrong here. But all that said, how hard would it be to just give credit to the source? The only reason I could think of not to do that is that by not giving credit it gives the impression that the food editor is a proficient creator of recipes. But on the other hand, people find recipes online all the time and make them, and then bask in the glow without telling their friends and family where they got it. She probably looks at it that way. A recipe is not a literary creation, so it seems more gray. I think the earlier examples in the post are more clear-cut.

  12. I think the feedback is working. I emailed them this morning and got this response a little later.

    This was brought to my attention yesterday.

    As I told the writer of that e-mail, Ami certainly does not want to plagiarize.

    I will get back to you as soon as I get in touch with the person who wrote the recipe for us and understand what is going on here.


    Glad they're owning up to it.

  13. I have updated the post to reflect the reply I received last night and the one in the comments as well.

    We'll see what they come back with.

    The writer/managing editor in the post may contact me as well.

  14. Re: Some comments -

    Thanks VP. That's kind of been my understanding. I put the (c) on the bottom of my blog just for added measure, but perhaps that's wrong (since it implies it's registered). I just copied [not plagiarized, heh] what I saw on other (larger) blogs.

    Yeah - I'm more annoyed that it just seems a pattern in the frum world and is dismissed as this editor seemed to, though again we'll see what she says.

    Anon - I believe the sugar vanilla/timing differences are dismissed by the writer of the post (who bakes) as negligible - i.e. they are more to mask that it's a stolen recipe than as real differences. The instructions are absolutely the same, with commas and periods moved.

    VP - "Nuts" - ?

    Bob - Another worthwhile point.

    Anon2 - LOL

    S. - Thanks. Agreed; moreover, I don't see why acknowledging you found a great recipe is a knock. It's true there is "nothing new under the sun", so why not establish yourself as an editor who really picks out great stuff? I'd say there was a period of time (when I had a much larger readership) when many of the readers liked this blog because I linked to good pieces.

  15. >I put the (c) on the bottom of my blog just for added measure, but perhaps that's wrong (since it implies it's registered). I just copied [not plagiarized, heh] what I saw on other (larger) blogs.

    No, I think you're fine. You don't need to register to use (c) - you're entitled to use it so long as you have a valid copyright, which you do, if you wrote it.

    It is a criminal offense to put the (c) on works you didn't author (or to which you don't own the copyright), but it very rarely prosecuted. Max. fine is $2500.

  16. If you look at the blog in question, the right sidebar contains the following:
    "This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License."

    Additionally, the Q&A page features the following personal note:

    "Can I post your recipe on my blog and use your photographs?"
    And the reply:
    "I work very hard at what I do, I appreciate an email to ask first.  PLEASE be sure to mention that the recipes and photographs are by Jenny Flake from Picky Palate along with my link.  I work hard on each and every post I do, so please be considerate."

  17. The act of plagiarism when applied to a recipe is a really hazy area. Commercially, for products that are sold under trademarked names, the issue is different. That's why chocolate chip cookies is generic and can be used by any company or food writer or just plain cook as a name of a dish, but also why Toll House Cookies cannot be used by anyone unless they give credit to Nestles, which holds the patent for that name of a recipe/product. The blog writer's recipe name is very generic--maybe if she had entitled her cookies "Nutso Crunchos" or something on that order, and someone has used that recipe name you would have a case for possible plagiarism.

    Re the specific recipe here, the idea of stuffed cookies didn't originate with the blog writer--checked a whole bunch of my cookbooks and cooking encyclopedias and over half of them have stuffed cookie recipes, and yes, a bunch where peanut butter is the filling and chocolate flavors the dough. Do the recipes vary much? Mostly the same with a teaspoon or two difference. Sort of like using vanilla as opposed to vanilla sugar, or shortening or oil instead of the margarine--really not so substantial a difference.

    The real problem would be if Ami used the pictures from the blog without giving credit--there you are talking about an artistic creation and such work belongs to the creator.

  18. I think the author of this post is crying over spilt milk. I agree with ProfK in practice, but even if the complaint isn’t a question of legality, it’s still a question of menschlichkeit. It doesn’t cost the magazine or author to acknowledge the original author or origin. That being said, I still don’t see the purpose of this post. The author of this post should have informed the copyright holder in question and explained the issue. If the actual copyright holder was concerned about someone pillaging their work, they should take it up with the publication directly and find a legal or amicable solution. I don’t see how harassing the publisher and creating public incitement is going to solve anyone’s problems.

    Looking at it from another perspective, Jewish publications don’t exactly have a very high-esteemed reputation to uphold. Have you read them recently? Their literary quality is quite horrid and embarrassing especially in comparison to their non-Jewish counterparts. Anyone who actually reads real books and publications can clearly see how lacking these newspapers and magazines really are.

    Basically, if you’re buying and reading this stuff willfully, what exactly are you expecting from them? Literary integrity? Publication professionalism? Please! The purpose of this genre of media is to provide an alternative to those who wish not to consume “unedited” material. That is all. In this case, people who wouldn’t find that recipe online for whatever reason we’re treated to recipe someone else found. Understand that the goal of these organizations is not to publish Pulitzer wining news stories or create signature five star dishes themselves. Perhaps the author of this post should lower his or her expectations of the frum media…

    p.s. bloggers also plagiarize and violate copyright laws as well, but I suspect we should brush that little factoid under the table... :-)

  19. regardless of the US law, most of you seem to be ignoring Halacha. Taking credit for someone elses work is a possible issur d'oraysah of Genaivas Da'as! Any frum organization ought to at least be concerned about that.

  20. Again, why is this not loshon hara? Ezzie, Anonymous blog writer, someone?

    p.s. I left a comment on the blog of the person who says she submitted these recipes to Ami, with a link to this post and asking for her perspective...and she deleted my comment. Clearly there is something fishy going on here.

  21. I have a relative who works as an editor at a Frum publications, and has run into situations where individuals have lifted entire articles from the web and submitted them as their own work. When one "author" was confronted with this, she didn't even seem to realize that what she had done was wrong - her attitude was pretty much "well, you needed an article on topic X, and here's an article on that topic, so what's the problem?" My relative therefore takes a few sections of all articles that are submitted, and enters them into Google as a search term - the result being that most such plageristic acts are now caught before they're published.

  22. Really? are we REALLY gonna quibble about whether or not this particular recipe was or wasn't cribbed, and whether or not it is or isn't plagiarism based on minor differences here and there as if that's the actual problem? Are we going to ignore the elephant in the room that is the frum world's wholesale acceptance of copyright-breech as acceptable behavior? The fact that the last 20 years of Jewish music is littered with stolen music without so much as an acknowledgement that the tune isn't original? That Jewish 'news' blogs simply pull their articles unattributed from "goyishe" media? That frum authors are often surprised to find themselves as unpaid "contributors" or "editors" in those weekly shoppers we have the nerve to call "newspapers"?

    It's a question of yashrus, of honesty, and sometimes of gezeila. And it needs to be addressed full-force, not quibbled over.

  23. Last Anon - Thank you, exactly.

  24. I've had content copied from me without attribution multiple times by a certain other frum news source.

  25. It's sad that many of the independent Jewish media are extremely dependent on general media and PR handouts. Is it enough for us that our media don't contain articles or ads showing immodest dress? We should set our sights higher.

  26. Emailed them yesterday and didn't receive a response. Anyone else tried?

  27. Why is the shots of the Ami pages not copyright infringement? It's storage in an electronic retrieval system.

  28. Because it's not being used in a prohibited way whatsoever.