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Creative Commons In The Kitchen

(cross posted from my NZCommons article)

Reference: ‘Creamy Broccoli Soup‘
by Bill Mckee.
Copyright: CC-BY-SA
In our house, we have a shelf of cookbooks. Some have barely been opened, others are the classic “coffee table” types, but then there’s the ones we use at every opportunity. I’m sure you’re just the same.

I rely heavily on my British background and am never far from Mrs B (Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management) when I need to know how long to roast a chicken. Having been here in New Zealand since 1996, I will also reach for every student’s cooking bible, Edmonds Cookbook.

Both these fine tomes pale into nothing when compared to my wife’s recipe “book”. It is handmade, full of very old bits of paper and uses a hope and a prayer as a means of organisation.

This collection of recipes (to be called “Liz’s Recipe Book”, even though it’s not strictly a book) is chock full of IP — that is, Intellectual Property, that nebulous stuff that seems to be both the oil and the grit in today’s society.

So what has Liz’s Recipe Book got to do with Creative Commons?

Everything. Liz’s Recipe Book is CC-BY-NC in action.

And that’s the main idea I’d like everyone to walk in to their kitchen with – Creative Commons is NOT a new, strange, librarian-focussed, computer-nerd ridden subject. It is most certainly a subject that librarians and IT folk need to have a deep understanding of, but it also swirls around us normal people.

So what is Creative Commons in the kitchen? It’s the right to have a copy of someone’s recipe under strict instructions as how you can use it. This is an explicit right given by the originator of the recipe. It doesn’t imply ability — just because you can follow the recipe, doesn’t make you a good cook (I know). And if I use the recipe but still make a mess of it, that’s my problem, not the person who wrote the recipe.

Now, my mother-in-law passes on her recipes to everyone and anyone she can (and you’ll be happy if it’s you). She wants the world to know that her broccoli soup is da bomb and that everyone should make it. Just like Jamie Oliver, surely?

Almost. But imagine going into your local library, photocopying each page of The Naked Chef and walking out. Imagine trying to do that in Whitcoulls. Imagine doing that by filming Jamie Oliver in his restaurant.

What’s the difference? Jamie Oliver uses copyright to restrict use of his recipes to specified means – buy the book, watch the TV show, come to the live show, GO TO THE RESTAURANT.

Imagine if my mother-in-law said, “Here ya go Liz, have my broccoli soup recipe, that’ll be $5 please” – yeah, right! Or, even more unlikely, “Here ya go Liz, my favourite broccoli soup recipe. Oh, every time you show it to someone can you please get them to pay $10 and I’ll take my $5 cut?”

That’s not how family recipes are passed down, is it?

Imagine a world where everything was owned and managed like a Jamie Oliver recipe. We’d never get my wife’s Curry Broccoli Soup dish, and that would be a very sad world indeed. That’s not to say that I’m advocating getting rid of the standard, paid-for cookbook. Far from it. But I certainly don’t want to have a system of copyright applied as a default just because there’s no other option.

Luckily there is something else: Creative Commons. Using Creative Commons, my mother-in-law can protect herself and her recipes. She can ensure her broccoli soup recipe is passed on without hindrance. She can let future generations know that she’d love it to be used as the basis of future broccoli soup dishes. She can also, if she see’s fit, ensure that no-one can make money off her recipe.

Or maybe you have a recipe you want to protect in different ways? If so, check out the Creative Commons licences that suit you and spread those delicious recipes* around the world for all to feast upon.

* recipes = food, software, music, art, photos …. you get the picture.