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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Giving Credit: The Right Way to Link, Copyright, and "By," "Inspired," and "Adapted"

Let's get these definitions out of the way so there's no confusion. This is how I interpret "by," "inspired," "adapted," and copyright laws.

If I made someone else's recipe in its entirety or with minor modifications, I link back rather than republish the recipe on my blog. Example: Turnip Cake.

Mango Chicken 1
Mango Chicken.

If I saw something and then made something similar, but did not go from a recipe, I'll say I was "inspired." Example: Mango Chicken.

If I used someone else's recipe as a starting point, but made substitutions, I'll say I "adapted" the recipe and link back. Notice I don't do it half-assed by saying I got it from "here." I provide the name of the blogger and/or the blog and a link to the appropriate page. And I placed the link in a prominent location below the recipe title. Example: Gaeng Kiaw Waan (Thai Green Curry with Thai Eggplants).

Notice in all of the examples, I used my own photos, wrote everything in my own words, and linked back to the appropriate page with the full name of the website or blog. Just because something's available online doesn't mean it's free. And no, using someone else's photo or recipe and providing a link back isn't always enough. I observe these courtesies because I know how much work goes into creating each post and want to be respectful of the blogger. I also like playing within the confines of the law.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, all works published after January 1, 1978 are held under copyright protection until the creator's death plus 70 years, regardless of whether or not a copyright was filed. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 further requires that Internet Service Providers (ISP) remove the copied material when notified of a copyright violation. Now, whether you can enforce these laws might require an attorney, but those are your legal rights. There are Spam Blogs (Splogs) that will steal your photos and content, run ads, and hope to profit from your hard work. ProBlogger has the steps he took when someone stole from him in, "What to Do When Someone Steals Your Blog's Content - Blog Plagiarism." Lorelle on WordPress has more detailed information on "What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content."

Just because something's online doesn't mean it's free.

Pineapple Fried Rice 1
Pineapple Fried Rice.

I've seen what appears to be people's recipe catalog, the modern version of clipping recipes from magazines and newspapers, except they've cut and pasted from other blogs. Unless the blogger or business gave you free rein to take whatever you want, republishing it on your blog is copyright theft. It doesn't matter if you gave credit, when you don't have the rights to republish that material.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, lists of ingredients in recipes can't be held under copyright protection, but if there is:
"...substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection."
If you plan to adapt a recipe from a cookbook, magazine, or corporation, you may want to check out the furor Melissa of Alosha's Kitchen got into when she "adapted" a potato salad recipe by Cook's Country.

Know what's sad? Twice now, I've caught people on Biggest Menu pretending someone else's photo was their homecooking. The first time it happened, a girl copied word for word the description that Tigerfish of Teczcape had used to describe her steamed fish, including the "here, here, and here" part. Except obviously, the thief didn't make the fish so she couldn't link the "here, here, and here" part or else people would know it was Tigerfish's. I immediately recognized the picture. A quick search revealed she also stole two other photos from other bloggers and pretended she made those dishes too. I commented and said I knew she did not cook any of those dishes, and notified Tigerfish. The girl deleted the photos. Then it happened again, when i_lisz stole Rasa Malaysia's or nee (taro dessert) photo. She either didn't check her comments or knows no shame.

I used to have a full copyright notice on my blog. That meant none of my photos or content can be republished, regardless of whether or not there was a link back. When I saw my Double Delight rose photo on someone else's blog, I attempted multiple times to comment and to ask the blogger to at least give me credit. After no response, I sicced my readers on her and she eventually credited me, then decided to remove the photo. If you read the comments on that thread, you'll see that she assumed that since she found it online, it was free for the taking.

My initial posts were quite lackluster because I didn't want anyone stealing my content. After that incident, I realized that establishing my presence is the surest way to protect my copyright. If you establish yourself and your blog and have wonderful readers, if politeness fails, you can shame people into removing the content they stole from you.

As a compromise from full copyright, and what I eventually switched to, is a Creative Commons License. Not all CC licenses are the same. If you've read my copyright and attribution notice, you'll note that I allow some use of my photos or content, provided that the person links back and credits me properly, and that they don't make any money from my content.

Some blogs and websites don't allow you to use any of their photos or text, regardless of whether you credit them or link back, so pay attention to the fine print. I've seen blogs pull images from Flickr, when the fine print clearly states "All Rights Reserved." The U.S. Copyright Office section on Fair Use, allows quotations of excerpts in a review, it does not allow for you to republish a photo on your blog, even if you provide a link back.

That's why I said at the beginning of this series that if you just wanted a repository to store recipes you liked or cooked, don't make it public. Once it's public, there are blogging courtesies, if not copyright laws, by which you have to abide. Even if the blogger doesn't come after you, you've just created enmity unnecessarily.

Yang Chow Fried Rice 1

If you like something, link to it. If you used someone's information, link to it. Links. Links. Links. Most people are happy to receive a link and credit.

So is there a proper way to link? Actually, there is.

My links give proper credit to the source and also helps my search engine optimization (SEO).

Bad example:
"I learned the right way to link from here."

Good examples:
"I learned the right way to link from Wandering Chopsticks."


"I learned the right way to link from Wandering Chopsticks in her post, "Giving Credit: The Right Way to Link, Copyright, and "By," "Inspired," and "Adapted."""

Obviously, either one of the last two examples are a good way to credit the source because my name or the title of my post are the parts that are linked. But, how is this also the right way to link in order for search engines to find the content? Google's Webmaster Tools explains in Title Tags and ALT Attributes that:
"Your title tags and alt attributes contain important information that Google uses when indexing your site. Descriptive information will give us good information about the content of your site. In addition, text contained in your title tag can appear in search results pages, and useful, descriptive text is more likely to be clicked on by users."
How many times do you think other bloggers use the word "here"? And how descriptive is it? "Here" doesn't tell you who or what. Is using "here" wrong? Lots of bloggers do it. I did it myself at first because I thought that's how I was supposed to link. But it never quite sat well with me because I hated seeing my information referred to on someone else's blog as just "here." So I started giving credit by providing the blog or website name and the information. There's no way for me to track whether linking made a difference in my Google hits, but I was able to track the use of tags in titles.

Goi Cuon 1

For instance, I used to try to come up with clever and catchy titles for my posts. My recipe for goi cuon (Vietnamese salad rolls) had a long rambling anecdote and was titled "I Never Knew Rice Paper Was So Complicated." Here's the URL: http://wanderingchopsticks.blogspot.com/2007/01/i-never-knew-rice-paper-was-so.html

What does the search engine read?

The title:
I Never Knew Rice Paper Was So Complicated

The key parts of the URL:

If you were searching for goi cuon or Vietnamese or salad rolls, none of those terms would turn up my recipe. That's because the parts the search engine read were none of those words. No one, search engines or people, knew my recipe existed. So I fixed my title. I couldn't change the URL, so I titled the post, "Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Salad Rolls): I Never Knew Rice Paper Was So Complicated."

The result? Depending on the day and Google's finicky indexing engine, my recipe will often turn up on the first page of searches. For some reason, "goi cuon" isn't showing up today, it did the other day. :( But "Vietnamese salad roll" turns up on the first page. You want to land on the first page of searches as often as possible. After all, how many pages would you go through to click around for information when you type in a search?

I have since learned to simply title my posts with the name of the recipe or restaurant. When it comes to food blogs, use the words that people will be searching for -- the recipe name or restaurant name.

While I'm at it, it's good blogging courtesy to acknowledge information you've gathered via another source. For example, in my post, "Easiest Blogger Hacks: 3-Column Template, Favicon, Label Cloud, and Navigation Bar," I shared where I got my information and also said:
"And since I'm on this tangent of easy hacks, last fall, tipped off by Oanh of Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon, I found Phydeaux's hack for Code for New Blogger Tag Cloud/Label Cloud."
Or you can do "via" links the way Noodlepie or Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn did.

I certainly appreciated the shout out, even if it was only because I pointed them toward other information. Of course, you don't have to link this way, but doing so will build better rapport with other bloggers. If another blogger made one of my recipes and posted about it, I often go back to that post and add a link to their blog and their post. If they only said they got it from "here," I don't bother. Extend courtesy and you'll get it in return.

So what do you think? What's your definition of by, inspired, and adapted? How do you link? How do you observe blogging courtesies and copyright laws?
  1. How to Start a Food Blog
  2. On Blogging and Food Blogging
  3. Choosing a Blog Host
  4. Picking a Name: Be Clever, Original, and Memorable
  5. Posting: Frequency, Topics, and Accuracy
  6. Giving Credit: The Right Way to Link, Copyright, and "By," "Inspired," and "Adapted"
  7. Your Online Identity: Blogging Interactions and Comment Policies
  8. Photos: Photography Tips, Storage, and Watermarking
  9. Design: Layout, Navigation, and "Above the Fold"
  10. Blogrolling: Will You Be My Friend?
  11. Building Traffic: Participate in the Community and Respond to Your Stats
  12. Measuring Success: Cheerleader or Nerd?
  13. Public Relations: Handling the Freebies and the People
  14. Monetizing Your Hobby: To Ad or Not to Ad
  15. Bottomline: Have Fun, but Protect Your Work
Did you find this series useful? I'd appreciate credit if you use any of the information. Thanks!

1 year ago today, Squash Blossom Quesadilla.


  1. I'm really enjoying this series. You're putting out lots of helpful information. I'm relieved to see that I am doing most things correctly. I've had content stolen before and it is not fun!

    Thanks, and keep up the good work! :)

  2. Wow, great post, chopsticks! I was glued to every word. I am guilty of using "here" when I am too lazy to put forth the effort to do it properly. I bet this post will stick in my mind whenever I am tempted to do it again!

    I came to search for the flowers you were telling me about, but now I am hooked on this series and have to go read the posts I have missed.

    You certainly have spent a ton of time and effort to find and post all of this info. Thank you!

    I think you were right on with your definition of by, inspired, and adapted.

  3. Thank you for this! It seems you have put a lot of time and energy into this detailed series. It will be useful for my new blog!

  4. great job on this post!! i myself was shocked to see a big site one time copy paste entirely my recipe. they put a link and used my photo..but the thing is they didnt even ask for my permission! i didnt do anything because i dont want to waste my time with them over that, im blogging coz i wanna share my kitchen passion. thanks for this beautiful post!

  5. WC-
    I know Flickr has controls that user's can set to prevent ppl from downloading photos. I wish Blogger would put some type of controls on the site (ie- can view but not download). It would save a lot of time- maybe we could suggest as a product enhancement?

  6. I truly enjoyed this post and I think it helps newbies to figure out how to do things. When I first started, i didn't even know if I had to ask if I could link people. Or even how to link. The learning curve was quite steep for me :-) I sure wish I had something like this post to give me some guidance.

  7. Great info about the title of blog posts. Although I tend to name my blog posts with a "catchy" title, the actual URL is more descriptive (i.e. title post "My Adidas", URL is /chicken_feet). I know I'd probably get more hits if both my title and URL matched and were both descriptive like you suggest, but I can't help myself with the corny titles!

  8. Good tips. This is one of the better series I have come across about blogging. I am still relatively new to the blogosphere and have tons to learn. Thanks for taking the time to do this series. Keep up the good work :)

  9. SGCC,
    I'm glad you're enjoying the series. I wouldn't say my way is the "correct" way, just how I prefer to do things. Don't you hate content thieves?

    Thanks! While I'm mainly talking about food blogs, I think there are some tips that can apply to any type of blogging. Glued to the page huh? How flattering. :P

    I'm looking forward to your food and home blog!

    I want to share my passion for food too, but sites like that make it no fun for the rest of us!

    It's all Ono,
    Flickr has an option not to make it easy for people to download photos. But you can still just right click away. Even on professional photo sites that disable that right click option, there's still ways.

    In early blogging days it was etiquette to ask first. Not so much anymore. So things do change.

    I love your corny titles. I didn't even know you could set your URL to differ from your title. Blogger just catches a certain amount of characters from your title and makes that your URL.

    I'm glad you're finding it useful. And that you think it's one of the better blogging tips out there. ;)

  10. Agreed that this is an excellent series -- being a former journo here, I take credit-giving pretty seriously as well. I am more fluid in my "adapted from" and "inspired by" attributions, but basically the same idea -- I'll link back if I'm basically using someone else's recipes even as a starting point.

    The part about BMers stealing pics & captions was funny, didn't know that kinda stuff would go on there.

  11. HC,
    Glad you're enjoying the series. I think for us, giving credit is a given. But many people either don't know how, or even worse, don't care to. It's really sad and pathetic that people would steal photos and pretend they cooked those dishes on BM huh? I mean really. Who are they trying to impress?

  12. hey, i just linked to this post because i reprinted a printed recipe. (something I almost never do.) thanks for the post.

  13. Maybelle's Mom,
    Ah, yeah, gotta be careful about reprinting from those church and school recipe booklets. Even though those books aren't often copyrighted, sometimes the recipes people submit for those things are actually copyrighted.

  14. I hope this is not too late but i've just started a blog myself.

    understand about the referencing back of recipes when the content is online. What if i wanted to use a recipe that was in a cookbook that is never posted online? can i type it out and give them credit? or is something like this not meant to be shared.

    Thanks for this post.

  15. Jeni,
    Cookbooks, like all books and magazines, are copyrighted. You're not allowed to reprint their words unless the copyright holder gives you permission.

    Ingredients can't be copyrighted, but directions are copyrighted. Yes, people violate this and reprint recipes without permission, but I don't.

    What you can do is adapt a recipe, provided that you actually made changes to the original recipe and didn't just write "adapted," but kept the same ingredients and portions. Or you can reprint the list of ingredients, but re-write the directions in your own words.

    We all want to share recipes, but I believe being respectful about how we go about it is very important.

    Good luck and welcome to the world of food blogging!

  16. I have a photography website and I release photos under a CC licence. Photos are freely downloadable from my website and I have often people asking if they can use them. I don't even have a problem to give them the fullres ones. I think of photography as a form of art and art should be free for everyone. That doesn't mean I don't want credit for my work, but I won't prevent people to use it.

    PS: disabling right click is really useless. You can download the photos anyway in lots of easy way (i.e. no need to be an hacker):
    -save the page, you also save the photos
    -disable Javascript, no warning on right click
    -show the source of the page: you get the photos address

    and so on...

    pop ups on right click are just annoying for the user (e.g. I use right click to search the highlighted word in Google, and I can't do that on your website, which is annoying).

  17. Nico,

    We'll have to respectfully agree to disagree about this. While you don't mind if people use your photos, sometimes without giving you any credit, I do mind. I mind very much.

    I invest a lot of time and effort into my blog. It's not simply taking a photo of a scene or a person or an object. I take lots and lots of photos to illustrate my recipes, then edit them, then write lengthy posts and detailed recipes. That's hours upon hours of work. Freely shared so that others can cook or learn about the cuisines I'm writing about.

    Far, far too often, my recipes, my photos, and entire blog posts have been scrapped and stolen without compensation to me. Other websites steal my content in order to make money off my work. It's not a simple matter of one stolen photo.

    My blog is a labor of love, but I'm still laboring when I work on it. Therefore, I should be compensated for my work, no matter how miniscule. Others should not be making profit off of what I give freely.

    I believe art should be enjoyed, not necessarily for free. I believe the artist should be compensated for his or her work.

    Of course, those who are intent on stealing my work will seek ways to do so regardless, but it doesn't mean I'll make it easy for them.

    If you want to search for something on the blog, you can just as easily left-click and paste it into your Google searchbar.

    But that's not really the point you're trying to make.

    And for that, I completely disagree.

  18. Of course, I do absolutely understand your point, I was just giving my personal thought about MY photos, wasn't gonna try to change your mind about yours (I'm sorry, maybe that was not clear from my msg)!

    Take in mind anyway that CC licences are legal agreements and therefore people are legally obliged to respect them.
    For instance, if you licence your your photos/posts/whatever under a CC-by-nc licence and someone uses them for commercial reasons or without cyting you, you have the LEGAL right to ask him to stop using them and even to sue him if he persists.


    As for the right click thing, of course my point was not that it makes the site unusable, only that it's annoying as I tend to use right click quite often when browsing a page that's all!

    PS: in all of this, I really like your recipes! :D

  19. Nico,
    Ah, well, sorry for the confusion then. I can't remember the link, but I read somewhere that if you sue someone and you have a CC license, you're entitled to recovery for the fees. And since a CC license is free, you basically get nothing. Sure you have the legal right to ask someone to stop using your images, but you have that by default anyway since copyright begins the moment you hit publish.

    Yeah, I hated disabling right-click. It was too inconvenient for me and people were still copying photos anyway. :(

  20. I regularly read Appetite for China and browsed her blog list to find you here. The caption "how to start a food blog" caught my eye because I just started mine a few weeks ago and I found this entry particularly interesting. Thank you for writing this (albeit a very long time ago). As someone who does this just for fun as a side project, I didnt really consider that there are some who arent as casual as I am about recipes and sharing. I agree - give credit where credit is due. I'll keep this in mind as I continue to grow my blog.

  21. Figs Etc.,
    The majority of us are doing it for fun, but there's no reason not to give people proper credit. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

  22. Invaluable post - I Appreciate the insight . Does anyone know if my company can get access to a template a form document to work with ?


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