The ethics of food blogging has become a hot topic amongst food critics, cookbook authors, amateur and professional bloggers. In recent years, food blogging has become a popular venue for anyone with a passion for food to share recipes, write restaurant reviews, and share opinions about food products.
Food bloggers, Leah Greenstein and Brooke Burton published a food blog code of ethics via their Food Ethics blog which generated a flood of controversy and substantial support. Their code of ethics wasn’t intended to be the official code for all food bloggers to adhere to. Instead, it was written to “advocate accountability, accuracy and honesty in the world of food blogging.”
I have been a food blogger since 2007 and have worked hard to develop unique recipes. I have spent countless hours learning how to photograph food. My days are filled with visits to food blogs, connecting with food bloggers, writing blog posts, preparing food and taking photographs.
Over the years I have joined numerous affiliate programs so I can monetize the blog to generate income and continue doing what I love. On December 1, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission revised their Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. In essence, the guide requires bloggers to be transparent in disclosing if they earn commissions or receive free products or services in exchange for a review.
Personally, I’m in favor of the revised guides and do not feel as if they impose on my first amendment freedom of speech. I’d much rather know upfront if someone has received compensation for a product or restaurant review or if they earn a commission from a product I purchase through one of their affiliate programs.
I feel that being transparent helps build relationships based on trust. I have even been fortunate enough to have readers contact me via email to let me know they purchased a product to make sure I receive my commission.
That being said, there is much more to the ethics of food blogging than being transparent with reviews and affiliate programs. Technology has made it easy for anyone with a computer to create a blog. Nearly every celebrity chef and cookbook author has jumped on the food blogging bandwagon. But, this popular niche has also become attractive to individuals who are looking for a fun hobby and those who are trying to spread their wings and become an expert in the culinary arts.
After years of hard work, my food blog has gained considerable notoriety. I do not proclaim to be an expert food blogger, nor have I ever attended culinary school. But, I have carved out my personal niche and generated a loyal following of foodies. While it is humbling to have admirers, the price of fame has also come with a following of unethical bloggers who steal my blog posts, recipes, and photographs.
When someone steals your work there are proper channels that copyright holders must follow in order to have content removed from the offender’s blog. The most common protocol is to submit a DMCA notice which stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Information about and the process for submitting DMCA notices is available at the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, as well as various other sources which can be found by typing in “DMCA Notice” via your favorite search engine.
On January 13, 2010 PlagiarismToday.com published an article entitled, When NOT to File a DMCA Notice which discusses the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism, as well as alternative solutions to contacting bloggers who have ripped off your work.
One tool which has served me well in providing proof that I am the original author of work presented on my food blog is MyFreeCopyright.com. This free service provides a digital fingerprint to register the time and date the blog post was created.
My Free Copyright sends an email verification which includes the date and time the blog post was published, along with the title, and digital copyright fingerprint number. It is important to retain these copyright notices. However, if one is misplaced members can obtain a copy from their account page at My Free Copyright. Members can also download a badge to display on their blog or website to discourage unethical bloggers from stealing content and photos.
Food bloggers should also create a Google Alert for each blog post. You can enter the title of your blog post and create alerts for specific keywords. Google alerts can be setup to be delivered the moment a keyword matches your alert, on a daily basis, or once a week. This tool has alerted me to dozens of copyright infringements. Another option is Giga Alert which if often used by professional bloggers.
There are many reasons food bloggers steal content and photos. The majority are simply ignorant of copyright laws and plagiarism. Others are just flat-out thieves who scour the Internet looking for top ranking articles so they can hijack your traffic by stealing your words.
With the multitude of cooking shows, it is inevitable that food blogging will continue to be a popular niche. If you plan to embark down this path take time to become educated about FTC regulations, copyright infringement, and plagiarism. Protect your work using the tools provided in this article and plan on spending time dealing with those who are ignorant or content thieves.
While food blogging is a tremendous amount of fun and can be highly profitable, it is crucial to develop your own persona by using your own words, recipes and food photographs. If you can’t take a picture utilize photography services such as iStockPhoto or MorgueFile. If you find a photo on a food blog that you feel you can’t live without, contact the food blogger and request written permission to use the photo and provide a link back to their website. If they decline your request, don’t use the photo.
Last, but not least, realize that tools exist to track everything you write online. If you choose to be unethical chances are high someone will eventually sue you. Worse yet, your reputation will quickly be ruined and your web host provider can shut down your food blog without notice.
If you blog about food be honest, maintain integrity, provide unique quality content, and good recipes. Staying true to yourself and being an ethical food blogger will provide you with endless joy, happy readers, and the opportunity to expand your culinary career in many unexpected directions!
Food Blog Code of Ethics
Federal Trade Commission Endorsement and Disclosure Guidelines
Electronic Frontier Foundation