Copyright Infringement of Recipes: Elizabeth Warren, Pow Wow Chow, and me.

Over the past week, I’ve been reading about Elizabeth Warren, currently a candidate in Massachusetts for the United States Senate and former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and apparently, NOT an American Indian.

I remember Elizabeth Warren as my law school professor at UT-Austin, long ago: she taught me one-half of the two semester long UCC course. Can’t remember which one.

I do remember visiting with Elizabeth Warren in her office several times; she and I shared the unique (masochistic?) resume builder of driving 3 hours a day to attend law school (me, back and forth from San Antonio to Austin in a refurbished 68 VW Bug; I can’t remember what she drove, but I do remember it was some place with lots of snow in the winter). 

I do not remember any American Indian references then; I have no recollection of tribal artifacts in her small office, nor do I remember anyone at UT thinking of Elizabeth Warren as a “woman of color.”  I thought we were two blonde, blue-eyed women sharing the difficulties of commuting to a top law school while being married and living on a shoestring budget.  She had me beat: she did one year of her commute while pregnant. 

I admired her then.  Now, I wonder how much that young, scared, law student believed was true and what may have been stretched.  Especially after reading the Wikipedia bio.  But I digress. 

Of course, no one really references her time in Austin, because why would they if she moved on to Harvard.  Yeah, I know. 

Somewhere between then and now it seems that Elizabeth Warren acknowledged an American Indian Heritage and with it, apparently, the desire to contribute to an American Indian cookbook entitled “Pow Wow Chow.”

What a name.  I cannot wait for Saturday Night Live on this one. 

Okay, here’s my point.  Elizabeth Warren is being accused of copyright infringement of RECIPES if not downright plagiarism because she submitted several recipes for publication as her own, and which were published in Pow Wow Chow – but seem to have an eerie similarity to some pretty high-falutin’ recipe sources

And by “eerie similarity” I mean they look exactly the same.  But you knew that.

Recipe Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism Claims Are Tricky

There are just so many ways you can cook some things, and the U.S. Copyright Office recognizes this.  You don’t violate a recipe copyright by listing ingredients for a dish, or by itemizing how those ingredients are to be put together and cooked into a finished product. 

You violate a recipe copyright by grabbing up the actual language used in the recipe as your own.  The description, the know-how stuff, that goes into the recipe along with the ingredients list and the amount of time it needs to bake at 350 degrees. 

It’s a hard case to prove, sure.  But recipe copyright infringement claims are real. 
Did Elizabeth Warren infringe on copyrights?  That’s a legal issue but consider this:  she apparently took three recipes verbatim from the New York Times and allowed them to appear as her own, under her byline as a Cherokee, in the Pow Wow Cookbook. 

Read the details here.
As for the claim to be an American Indian, I leave the commentary on that infringement to an American Indian, who wrote this open letter to Elizabeth Warren on the blog Polly’s Granddaughter, which I discovered while reading Michael Graham’s piece in the Boston Herald this week.