Thursday, 10 November 2011

Reggae Reggae Litigation: Recipes, Plagiarism and Lawsuits

Yesterday I went to the library to return some DVDs (nothing interesting to report, I’m afraid!). Whilst doing so, I wandered to the section on food and drink, wondering if I’d find any inspiration. I am something of a cookery book nutter, and had I more space than a single (large!) shelf in my kitchen, my house would be overrun with the things. As it is, I sneak the odd one or two into the house when Him Indoors isn’t looking and pretend we have had the said snuck in book ‘for ages’. (Perhaps I should not have admitted to this!).

Anyway, in my search for sources of inspiration, I discovered that someone had just returned a copy of Levi Root’s Reggae Reggae Cookbook. Given I have only recently blogged about how my love of reggae and dub has influenced my approach to cooking (, I thought this was too interesting a coincidence to pass up. Levi, (real name Keith Valentine Graham) is a reggae musician of some note and one-time friend of Bob Marley (oh-to-have-been-a-fly-on-the-wall!).

I borrowed the book, which is a very colourful, chatty interesting book full of Levi’s Jamaican recipes ranging from curries, stews, jerk chicken, marinades and rice and peas. It also contains Levi’s reflections on his life, music and food. Having only attempted cooking Jamaican once (a disastrous jerk chicken experiment), I was looking forward to trying to make the dishes of this vibrant and flavourful cuisine. I used to work in Deptford, South London, where we had good Jamaican food in abundance; patties, curry goat, jerk, fried plantain and rice and peas (with or without gravy).

Imagine my surprise when on my way home when I saw that Mr Roots is being sued in the High Court for stealing the recipe for his best selling Reggae Reggae Sauce (which everyone not living under a rock for the past 4 years will know was featured on BBC’s Dragon’s Den). Tony Bailey, now obviously a former friend of Levi, claims that he invented the recipe. Roots claims he obtained the recipe from his granny. The pair worked together for 17 years feeding the masses at the Notting Hill Carnival. Read the full story here:

This got me thinking about recipes and plagiarism. The two have seemingly been connected for decades. Even the legendary Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was apparently copied from many other cookery writers! Find out the truth at:

So when is a recipe ‘yours’ and when is it ‘stolen’? It is a big question, given the size of both the cook book and ready-made-table-sauce-and-condiment market. My view is that there are some recipes that are beyond ownership; the proportion of ingredients in a Victoria sponge, pancake batter, boiling an egg, cooking basic steamed rice. There are others which have existed for years, but can be given a revision or overhaul by fiddling around with ingredients and techniques, making them new and original. And of course, if you are very lucky, there are the things you just dream up on a good day which no-one you know has ever thought of before. These are clearly original works that you deserve a big pat on the back for (Oh, for such flashes of brilliance to be a little more frequent!)

I don’t know how the ‘reggae reggae’ litigation will resolve itself. It has already resulted in some pretty negative publicity for Levi Roots. The Evening Standard story was repeated in the Metro only this morning:
This publicity and media attention really has the potential to damage his brand and reputation. This may lead Roots to settle (ADR at the last minute, anyone?) If not, we shall see whether Bailey has the evidence to prove he developed the sauce recipe (which is entirely possible) as the hearing progresses.

If only they’d chosen a less public way of settling their differences. Perhaps they should have had an old fashioned cook-off.

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