The moral gray area of copycat recipes
When a food trend goes viral, we can expect to see plenty of dishes inspired by it, along with some straight-up knockoffs. Dunkin’ Donuts has gone for the latter in their Lebanon locations, which are serving milkshakes that bare a striking resemblance to those made by New York City’s Black Tap. Black Tap gained social media fame last year from their huge, showy milkshakes, which can be topped with everything from slices of cake to sparklers. These shakes are clearly the inspiration behind the drinks being sold at Dunkin’ Donuts in Lebanon, down to the frosting-glued, candy-covered rims.
Dunkin’ Donuts’s Black Tap ripoff calls to mind the rising problem of food plagiarism. While technically recipes can’t be copyrighted (though the manner in which the recipes are presented can be), most recipe developers know that plagiarism is a no-no. However, morality hasn’t stopped people from claiming ownership to recipes they didn't create. Food writer J. Kenji López-Alt has publicly accused BuzzFeed Tasty of copying a popular recipe he developed last year. Earlier this month food blogger Elizabeth LaBau filed a lawsuit against Food Network for allegedly ripping off her snow globe cupcakes. And the creators of the Unicorn Latte (the owners of the Brooklyn cafe The End) are currently trying to sue Starbucks for “dilut[ing] the distinctive quality of [The End’s] famous Unicorn Latte mark” with their viral Unicorn Frappuccino.
This isn’t the first time Dunkin’ Donuts has made a profit off the intellectual property of another brand. The chain has sold millions of “croissant doughnuts,” an obvious knockoff of Dominique Ansel’s Cronut. While you'd be hard pressed to find a bakery not currently selling a version of the Cronut, Ansel has spoken about food plagiarism in his business. “Protecting yourself and your intellectual property is something I’ve had to learn to do,” Ansel told the Washington Post. Although Ansel has trademarked the Cronut name, he can't do much to stop copycats from selling similar creations.
Sure, imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery, but maybe food brands and recipe creators should focus more on developing their own viral creations than making cheap knockoffs.