Stealing and Sampling in the Grocery Store…and in Copyright Law

I recently came across a tweet that read, “Stealing and ‘Sampling’ in the Grocery Store” and immediately clicked through to read the article on thinking it was about copyright. Ah, finally, two of my interests, food and copyright, merge. When I read the article/post, I found out that the article was entirely food-related and had nothing to do with copyright. I, however, have decided to merge the two anyhow. In lieu of seeing how we may have sticky fingers in the grocery store, I “nibble” on the poll and apply it to copyright law. So, let’s see how the poll translates:

  • Do I sneak a few grapes before I buy? Hmm, one may sample music before purchasing a song online. In fact, this act may be legal in certain jurisdictions. For example, in a July 2012 Supreme Court of Canada case, the court stated that previews do not require copyright payments. This would be previews of 30 to 90 second excerpts of musical works that can be listened to by consumers prior to purchasing the work. The use of these previews are not an infringement of copyright and are considered research under the fair dealing provision in the Canadian Copyright Act.
  • Do I eat an item while I shop without paying for it? Likely not; books don’t taste so good.
  • Do I take without paying since I am already paying plenty and the grocery store is unlikely to miss an item or two? It is not my place to determine whether creators and content owners should give away their content for free. It is their choice, even for the Bruce Springsteen’s and others who make plenty.
  • Do I avoid all uses without payment for those uses? Although taking may be considered by some to be stealing in the grocery aisle, copyright law does in fact allow me to use content without permission in prescribed circumstances. For example, under the defense of fair use in the U.S. Copyright Act, I can use a work for such purposes as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research if that use is fair. Fairness is determined by examining the purpose and character of the use (whether for commercial or nonprofit purposes); the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the whole work; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. In addition, there are specific exceptions for specific uses and user groups such as libraries, archives, museums and educators.

While I may nibble on a grape in the grocery store, or preview a song before I purchase it, I would never stuff a cereal box into my purse nor would I photocopy or digitize an entire book without permission from the copyright owner.


  1. Lesley says:

    Thanks Art, I appreciate your positive comments. I do hope to blog more about food and copyright and you’ve given me some food for thought for future posts!

  2. Art Campbell says:

    Lesley, I thought you’d relate copyright to groceries in a couple other ways: (1) taking smart-phone pictures of theoretically copyrightable selection-arrangement-and-presentations of various foods; and (2) taking smart-phone pictures of other goods’ copyrightable labels with bar-codes for purposes of comparing products and prices. Any traction in those subjects? I love your blogs and your copyright service! Keep up the fine work. Cheers! Art

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