Sunday, 15 June 2014

Marmite Cupcakes and recipe copyright

The Marmite cupcake recipe from my book Supper Club
You may have seen stories in the newspaper about Marmite cupcakes in the last week or so.  In 2010 I created a recipe for two types of Marmite cupcake: one with a Marmite caramel centre and topping; the other with a Marmite chocolate ganache centre and topping. 
The recipe was also published in my book Supper Club; recipes and notes from the underground restaurant. See the proof above.
The recipe, ostensibly created by an outfit called Lola's Cupcakes, seemed remarkably similar to mine. They dug out the centre of the cupcake and filled it with Marmite caramel and topped the cupcake with a buttercream version of the same plus Marmite chocolate ganache.
Lola's cupcakes received an enormous amount of publicity about this, claiming in the press release that they were the first to make Marmite cupcakes.
But I ran my Marmite cupcake recipe text through a plagiarism checking site (see also copyscape.com) and all these links came up:

Daily Mail, 9 June 2014, "Love it or hate it... the MARMITE cupcake is here: Baked treat mixes salty yeast spread with caramel and chocolate" 
My Daily, 10 June 2014, "Marmite Cake: The Latest Food Fad, But Would You Try It?" 
Metro, 9 June 2014, "The Marmite caramel cupcake: You'll either love it or hate it" 
Evening Standard, 9 June 2014, "Marmite cupcakes? Got to give it a try."
Rather a coincidence, wouldn't you say?

I tweeted Lola's cupcakes and got some very patronising tweets full of kisses attempting to bat me away. I persisted and they eventually sent me this email:



'Their' recipe is here in Shortlist magazine. But their recipe makes no sense. The ingredients and the method do not match. (That's what tends to happen when you copy and paste from someone else's work, you slip up.) You can see from the comments under the Shortlist article that readers are confused. Words directly copied from my blog post are in red.

In Shortlist magazine:

For the insert their ingredients say:


Insert
Caramel condensed milk 240g
But for the method, there is no mention of condensed milk for their recipe says:

Insert
1. Put the sugar and the water into a saucepan and put on a medium heat and boil without stirring until it becomes a deep amber colour.
2. Brush down the sides of a pan with a brush dipped in water to prevent crystallisation.
3. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the cream slowly and carefully this may spit. Stir in the marmite. Leave to cool and make an insertion in the cupcake with an apple corer. Fill with the cooled marmite caramel.
Just to remind you, my blog post says:
Make your caramel.
  • Combine the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan until it dissolves.
  • Bring it to the boil, without stirring, until it's a deep amber colour.
  • Brush down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water to prevent crystallisation.

But the biggest 'coincidence' is that the genius who runs Lola's Cupcakes came up with this quote, which is in all the newspaper stories in the links above and is almost verbatim what my blog post says:

Asher Budwig, managing director of Lola’s Cupcakes, says: ‘Marmite’s saltiness complements the caramel extremely well, but the centre will either be a shock or a pleasure depending on where your Marmite sensibilities lie!


Let's compare and contrast with my blog post of 2010 which says:

"It was important to have that salty intense Marmite hit peeking through the sweetness and this was achieved by creating a strongly Marmite flavoured 'centre' in the cupcakes. This 'centre' would either be a shock, or a pleasure depending on where your Marmite sensibilities lie..."

So what can I do about this? 

They are big, I am small. So Lola's Cupcakes feel that they can do what they want with impunity. But have they no pride? And to be sooo lazy that they actually steal the words from my blog and pretend that their owner said this?  If you are going to nick someone else's idea, cover your tracks a little better.

Let's discuss the whole matter of recipe copyright. It's the subject of a talk that I'm giving with Lavender Bakery and Maison Cupcake at the Britmums conference next weekend "How to make a recipe your own".
Most recipes are not original. Recipes are like Chinese whispers, every time someone cooks them, they turn out slightly differently. You cannot copyright, for instance, a classic recipe such as a Victoria sponge or a recipe for hummus. These dishes are in the canon. All we can do as cooks is slightly tweak them. A Vicky sponge needs certain ingredients in a certain quantity combined and baked in a predetermined order. You can put a different flavour in there, you can add a different fruit, you can make it smaller or bigger, but basically a Victoria sponge is still a Victoria sponge.
Ditto hummus. Hummus needs chickpeas, tahini, salt, lemon, olive oil. You can change the bean. You can change the oil. You can dick around with the recipe but hummus is hummus is hummus.
Now Marmite/caramel has been done before by Signe Johansen in the Marmite Cookbook while Marmite/chocolate ganache has also been done before by Paul A Young
But neither has put both elements into a cupcake. My recipe is not the same as their recipes either. I started from scratch.
I would argue that Marmite Cupcakes is not a classic recipe, it's an original idea, even a gimmick. While a cupcake is a basic recipe, adding Marmite is unusual, and digging out the centre or the 'insert' is another idea, and combining Marmite/caramel and Marmite/chocolate ganache in that cupcake is too close for comfort. As a unique recipe, Lola's cupcakes could, at the very least, have credited me. David Lebowitz in this article, talks about recipe attribution, how to give a polite nod to those who came before.
Legally, note that ingredients cannot be copyrighted. The method cannot be copyrighted either. Minor changes and rewriting the method is not illegal, however it is not terribly ethical. 
But words can be copyrighted. If you copy the exact same words in the method of a recipe from someone else, that's a breach of copyright. Using the exact same words in the exact same order from somebody else's blog post, without crediting them, IS a breach of copyright. 

Update: they have also used my recipe on their facebook recipe app without permission or credit.

54 comments:

  1. Wow that's ridiculous. Can't believe they wouldn't at least reword it a bit (or not plagiarise in the first place, of course!). I guess all you can do is to get the word out there - I tweeted this post for you!

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    1. Thank you Becca. They could have done several things: 1) not copied from my blog post 2) come up with their own ideas 3) credited me 4) asked me to guest 'chef' for them, working in conjunction with me but that would have meant paying me. But they are a very large successful company. They can afford it.

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  2. K, I have to say that is really really a piece of c**p from Lola cupcakes, to copy without any attempt to test and rework, if needed, is shockingly bad. Their responses seem to suggest they are well and truly "up their own arses"!

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    1. It's hard for me to say as I haven't tasted one but it seems that the only change is that they've added the marmite caramel together with the chocolate ganache on top. They've slightly combined the two recipes into one.

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    2. Hi Kerstin - I do understand your feelings - sadly this is the sort of thing which can and does happen - wicked. I have seen copies of my cakes in some of the major 'shops' but when I approached a solicitor (a long time back) was that it was an almost impossible ground to tread. 'The team/person' involved only had to change things ie a cherry in a different colour or a different or ingredient and it was no longer an exact copy and therefore no room for legal complaints. Like you I went down the road of 'it's not fair' even with recipes and the history behind them in my first book which I knew had just been read and copied, one different ingredient or added fact - stopped any chance of action. I am not being negative as I have been there myself, but.......? take care..Julie

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    3. Hi Julie, I have one of your books!
      Yes I agree it is a very complicated area which is why I blogged about it. Legally I believe you have to change three ingredients for a recipe to be unique. Again, if a recipe is classic, then no one can claim copyright but a unique recipe like Marmite cupcakes, which comes up on the front page of google, there may be a legal challenge to claim copyright, especially as they have copied and pasted the words from my method. Thanks for your comment x

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    4. If it is 3 ingredients then you are of course, on a stronger footing.. In some ways, my cake in question, was a unique recipe which is why the solicitor virtually told me not to bother - albeit not quite in that manner. Did not realise that they had actually copied and pasted the words! One thing is certain, if you decide to give things a challenge so to speak - without doubt there will be a lot of us right behind you.

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  3. How awful Kerstin, I cannot believe they can be so blatant and still pretend this was done in house. Shame on Lola's Cupcakes.

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  4. wow that's intense, they clearly copied you. It's like stealing a candy bar and telling one of the people in the shop that you stole it when they used your exact words! I hope you can sort this out, this is really awful and I am so sorry for the frustrations this must cause you. Rock on lady! x

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  5. That's rotten! They should apologize to you by coming together and reintroducing the recipe with your name on it. Giving you credit and your cookbook credit. It could all be done in a nice and positive way though. Besides that particular cupcake maybe you could do a series for them… actually I would recommend that you take the bull by the horns and go to them with a project where you would create a number of special cupcakes for them. Why not! They're big and your little. But it's kind of embarrassing for them to leave it like this. That would be your approach..... "let's solve this together."

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  6. Hi Kerstin! I was actually sent a box with ingredients to make them at home and then write a blog for them about it. I'm not a pro baker but I'm not a beginner and the recipe looked like it was written by someone who hasn't baked in their entire life! It was a complete disaster!

    I didn't know they took this from you, that's just lazy. Is there anything else you can do? I'll tweet out your recipe instead.

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    1. Was it the Stylist recipe?
      God this whole thing is really pathetic. Shoddy.
      I don't know what I can do, looking into it.
      Yes please rt the correct recipe thanks!

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    2. Realised it wasn't in Stylist but Shortlist mag, have edited the blog post.

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  7. Wow, that's really terrible. I like using my blog as a place to share my ideas and recipes with like minded people. But when it's abused for commercial gain from a third party and not acknowledge. Really sorry and hope they realise that they've wronged you.

    FoodNerd x

    www.foodnerd4life.com

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    1. Thanks. It's worse than I thought. They've put this bodged up recipe everywhere...on facebook, their app. People are complaining because it doesn't work.

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  8. I'm shocked firstly the poor way they've gone aobut doing it and secondly by the response to having done it at all - no shame. I am really recent blogger and I agonise over these things, have I got it right, have a credited, linked correctly - am I being authentic. Then to cap it all, they haven't even transposed it right and so it doesn't work?!?! They can't leave things like that surely?

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    1. Yes I know, I do too. Every so often I might forget and then I have sleepless nights about it.

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  9. I am so sorry this happened to you. Clearly they stole your idea, your recipe, and your copyrighted materials outright without so much as a brief credit to you. Shame on them! I hope that by the complaints, many people will come to see they stole from you. Were I you, I think I would invest in an attorney (of whatever kind is appropriate for this issue in the UK) to send them a "Cease and Desist" letter. I agree that if they are large and you are small, your resources will limit what you can do but at least they would have to take you slightly more seriously after the C&D letter. In the USA, law schools have clinics where baby lawyers get to practice under supervision for the public at reduced rates, and sometimes even pro bono (for free.) It might be worth looking to see if that model exists there in the UK. You might get some legal help, supervised by professors, for a much reduced rate. It sure looks like you have a case for copyright infringement at the least. Good luck and again you have my heartfelt sympathy. Christina

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    1. Thanks...I'm still hoping they will do the right thing.

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  10. Is there any legal recourse yo u can take? I know that plagiarism in the academic field is serious business! As a student, one can be kicked out of uni for such an offense. Ad an academic, intellectual credibility and integrity becomes suspect and can at the very least, result in professional reprimand! There have been cases in journalism and recording industry where plagiarism is tantamount to professional suicide. Surely, there MUST be something you can do? Lola's professional integrity is already suspect ad they have produced a recipe that just doesn't work. That, in itself, makes one wonder about the rest of their products they might claim are unique and original to their bake shops. Good luck with this rather touchy situation. I hope you come out as the victor in this David v Goliath bake-off. That's IT!! Why not suggest a bake-off?

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    1. You are right there, it makes you wonder about their other recipes...

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  11. It's a very depressing example of what seems to be happening all over the world. Creative integrity in any field is being trampled on and exploited by untalented people with no imagination.
    I hope you get some joy here. Dan Lepard's publisher (and husband) was really vocal about this issue a couple of years ago. He might be able to advise. Have tweeted and will continue to tweet about this. We should create a dedicated hashtag #realrecipesnotripoffs or something like this. All our voices together should put those thieving cupcake people to shame at least.

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    1. I remember that story about Dan. Thanks for tweeting about this. It's a difficult area. I think large companies think 'small' bloggers aren't noticeable but the internet is actually rather a small place.

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  12. Reading this makes me think how unjust the world is. You can be creative and talented and someone can just pinch your work. Low. I hope that they are embarrassed but probably not good on you for publishing this Lucy

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  13. Instead of whining about it here, do the brave thing and contact a solicitor who is experienced in these matters or even a barrister who specialises in plagiarism, passing off, etc. First of all, even a threatening letter is not THAT expensive, and the point about a threatening letter is that it is proof positive that there has been an incident. You can take it to all the newspapers. If you are afraid of what it will cost, just ask beforehand, lawyers don't bite! Or you could sue them yourself in the small claims court. With that sort of documentary evidence, the newspapers will love it.

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    1. Josephine Bacon: I'm not 'whining' about it here. How rude.

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  14. I'm afraid I'm not at all surprised. As a food editor, I often have to stop recipe 'authors' lifting stuff from other sources; it's almost always easy to spot when something either fails to make sense or isn't in the right voice. When I take them to task, they're always amazed (heavy irony). And then they sometimes do it again. However, many publishers either don't do such intensive editing or attempt to economise by speeding the process up… OK, as you say, some recipes are effectively generic. But others are definitely original. And yours is.

    There was a recent instance of an independent knitting design being ripped off by some Debenhams designers; this immediately reminded me of that. The designer was Kate Davies and the patterns was called the Owl Sweater - might be worth googling to see what she did, because she did get compensation - a donation to charity - and the design removed.

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    1. Hi Kate,
      No recipes start in a vaccum and we all rely heavily on the work of those that went before. But a little credit goes a long way!

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  15. I'm still outraged - your publishers' legal department should be equally incensed at the blatant rip offs, too… They may have more clout, but social media can work for you too, independently…

    I remember when one of Claudia Roden's recipes was blatantly nicked years ago - the resulting row (and financial penalties) did keep a lid on it for a while.

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    1. Yes I think Claudia took them to court and won. It was a very personal recipe to her so again, utter stupidity in nicking it.

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  16. Good luck, because this is, aside from being terrible in the first place, just lazy and stupid on their part on how little effort they've even bothered to put into stealing the idea!

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  17. I was planning on making some Marmite cupcakes, being a fan of salty & sweet flavours. Having seen this I'll most certainly be going by your recipe.
    Have tweeted & facebooked this article as well as pinning the ORIGINAL recipe. Hope you get the credit you deserve.

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    1. Thank you K (that is my favourite letter)

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  18. Wtf is wrong with people?? That really is totally unacceptable on the part of Lola's Cupcakes -parrticularly that they persist with their story even after you caught them in the act so to speak! Food bloggers should all make YOUR recipe and link to it - that might push search results for the frauds down the page a bit. So sorry you have had to deal with this nonsense.

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  19. I'm staggered by the shamelessness of it - double theft of both idea and words. Good for you for fighting your corner - we're in the corner with you.

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    1. Thanks Charlie. Btw the photos on your blog are stunning.

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  20. Kerstin, I understand your complaints but unfortunately as soon as you post anything on the internet it becomes open season for copycats and thieves!
    I fear if you go down the legal route you will end up heavily out of pocket! If you search the web there are numerous recipe's for marmite inspired cupcakes and sponges, some using the vegemite alternative from AUS and NZ...so not sure you are the first either!
    Good luck, hopefully some sort of tie in/reference to your blog will be the best turnout (and cheapest option) for you!

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    1. I googled vegemite cupcakes going to page 10 of google and haven't found one recipe yet. I've found cheese and vegemite muffins and lamingtons but no vegemite cupcakes. Any of those recipes have been made in the last couple of years. My original recipe was created in 2010.
      Plus just because people do steal stuff on the internet, it's not a reason to go oh well that's fine. Most people cover their tracks a bit better. Ripping off content IS illegal. It's because Lola's are a big corporation that they haven't bothered.

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  21. So...what next? What do you do? I'm intrigued to know? Have you sent them this blog post?

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  22. Such a shame Kirsten. They could have done great publicity by partnering with you to do the cupcake. You've both got a loyal fan base. Instead they've decided to cheap out and steal your recipe, never thinking that it would blow up like this. Good on you for challenging them on this! Wondering if the person who stole your recipe and published it has got the sack yet. Even though I'm not a fan of marmite, I'm a fan of you and on your side. x

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    1. Thank you! Very kind words...and very apt. x

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  23. I wish you all the luck in the world with your case. They should be ashamed of themselves, such cheap tactics. The smile that appeared on my face as I got to the end of your post and read that you have a case against them. Hit them where it hurts (quite mean today, sorry lol)

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  24. what is Marmite cupcakes

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  25. I spent ages writing a reply but then realised there's way more important things going on in the world (even in my back garden to be honest- there's a cat territory war at the moment and I'm not sure whether next doors tabby cat is slowly winning. If it wasn't for some stupid football tornament I just know it would make front page. It's big news in the cat world). Go get legal advice and stop ruining your case by putting stuff all over the internet - the papers don't care and it is not going to help your cause. However if you'd like to write a blog on the cat war I'd be happy to provide you with further information - photographs might be tricky though as it would mean entering the war zone at night and there's a lot of covert undercover operations taking place and cats sneaking about in the hedges. Maybe you could make some marmite cupcakes and ice them to look like the cats and we could place them in positions to replicate the cat war? You could call them 'cat war cupcakes' so that you don't annoy Marmite and I won't tell the cats. You can have that idea for free. I'm nice like that.

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    1. I beg to differe anonymous. I think the marmite cupcake issue is more important than the war in the Ukraine, the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram, the invasion of Iraq by Isis, the public stoning of a pregnant woman in Pakistan. Because that is clearly the implication of this blog post.

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  26. I know right! And here I am discussing the territorial cat occupation of my back garden. It's my garden really - I should probably take some kind of ownership of it. Actually I should probably just take up a new hobby. I've thought about cooking - what do you think? I am considering taking a cupcake and filling the middle with Marmite. I'm going to market them to Canadians as a way to smuggle Marmite in.

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  27. Good God ! This is depreciable and plain stupid on part of Lola's, why stoop and copy when they have all the opportunity and means to be original! shame on them! Good work on writing about it , though am sure it is painful to be in such a place,its imp to share this so small fish like me know what is happening and are aware, will share on twitter right away. They really need to get back to you with an apology and credit your creative work in the right way, its the least decent thing to do!

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I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)