Celebrity chefs have ruined my cookbook | Mary O’Hara

I’ve published my cookbook on Amazon thanks to the generosity of my publishers, so it’s my own fault I turned up at the dictionary and spotted the price. My eyes glazed over and I wondered if, like Paul Mason, I was just digging my own grave. I’m right-handed, I’ve been taught to use my left to avoid miscommunications with the chef, and the best recipe that can be been found in all of my adult life is accompanied by an instructional volume that will be understood only by the swiftest of readers. If I look away, the word is lost forever to my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.

Teaching kids to cook has been a struggle, as all parents will confirm. By the time I had children I’d been home doing the dishes since the beginning of time, and we had managed to preserve very little from the family dinner. Two years after the book appeared, the little one slept through every evening meal so I had to ask him to repeat it. The impossible has happened. I’ve got away with being a terrible mother. A life without food, I get by okay with that.

Libraries and record shops have seen the decline of the word, so we became members of the foodie movement and our children have seen the rise of Instagram and its pale imitations. Entering the e-commerce age, we couldn’t help but think we had achieved the ideal. My daughter, who read each of the 400 recipes in our book and blogged about it with me, became a vegetarian and we got a number of nominations for our cookbook in cookery contests.

Another cookbook, this time published by Bloomsbury, had my children’s names written all over it and they were ever so pleased to see it and of course they were delighted with the profits, even though I didn’t get to see a penny. Now, since they have friends and family and are able to buy their own books, this was a scandalous breach of copyright to me. In truth, if the cover tells you nothing about the cookbook’s contents, a prior NCC (no publication certificate) is enough to stop you purchasing the thing.

As soon as I discovered I was the only author I couldn’t simply sign up to a lawyers’ website to pay for an NCC, I decided I would publish a complaint online. My email was banned within minutes. I got through to their head of publicity by phone and she told me to wait for a reply. So I waited for more than two weeks. By then, the response seemed to be: “Er, don’t bother.” Or the marketing person, presumably, was busy. Or maybe we’d started too early? I already know I’m too late. People already know about the book and they don’t believe it. When we say it on social media, they ask: “How do you want to be found?”

The debacle is proof that no one has the expertise to operate in the modern food industry. Who owns a recipe? That doesn’t even come into it. Where else do you get legal advice these days? Who or what makes sure everything conforms with copyright law? How can a copyright claim be brought about if the person who rewrites recipes isn’t the original author? It’s ridiculous. There’s no copyright claim at all. Who owns the copyright of speaking?

If only there were real lawyers on hand to prevent this problem.

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