A Moral Dilemma: Recipe Rip-Off

So I’m over at Kinokuniya browsing the cookbook section at lunch today when I notice a well-dressed young Asian woman flipping through a very large, very expensive volume, Nothing unusual about that, sure, but then this happened:



In case it’s not clear, she whipped her phone out and started shooting the recipes, presumably to take home and try later without having to go to the trouble of buying the book (and in the process contributing a small but fair share to the shop’s upkeep, the publisher’s paper bill, and the author’s mortgage). Amazingly, this was done in full sight of a security guard.

I had thought this was a pretty blatant case of intellectual property theft, but reactions of co-workers were mixed. Some were outraged, but others argued that, well, if she had a photographic memory and memorised the recipes, would that be stealing as well?

I still think it’s theft, and if the essence of a cookbook is its recipes, it’s not much different than her just stuffing the thing in her bag and walking out the door. Even if it’s not theft, it’s in very poor taste.

What do you think?

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25 Responses to A Moral Dilemma: Recipe Rip-Off

  1. Steve at the Pub says:

    …..of copyright.
    I’d have tossed her out of the shop.
    Seems a lot of trouble to go to for a recipe anyway. Google any recipe you like, and you’ll bring up about 240 different ways to cook it, and about the same number of variations in ingredients.
    What on earth could possibly have been so appealing about the recipes in that book, that she had to go & do that?

    “Well dressed”? Erm….. It looks like she’s wearing a tablecloth, or perhaps a cheap nightie.

    Very pleasing to see such a committment to cooking, by a young lady. I speak on behalf of every bachelor in the nation when I say: I want her phone number!

  2. Rhoda R says:

    Theft for sure — but I’m not sure she realizes that. It’s just too easy to do these days, so much so that people forget it’s wrong. In the long run, we’ll loose brick and mortar stores because of stuff like this.

  3. Having experience with happy snappers from Asia there is a good chance that the recipes will be appearing in a new publication soon. I know from personal experience that they take snaps of popular handmade craft and gift lines and send them off to China to be copied then flood the market with them.

  4. kae says:

    Maybe she was going to publish it on the web?

  5. whalehunt fun says:

    Would not happen with an ebook

  6. Sven says:

    I’d say it’s in definitely poor taste, and should be against the rules of the store. She could then be stopped or ejected from the store on those grounds and I doubt anyone would argue (you could stick a small “No photography” sign somewhere, for example). Still not quite the same as pocketing the book or tearing the relevant page out.

    The “photographic memory” argument does have partial merit. It’s the shop’s decision to allow people to browse, and doing so could easily result in people “stealing” ideas less complex than recipies from books, for example, with no photographic memory necessary. This type of murkiness is part of the reason something like this should be covered by store policy, not criminal law.

  7. LordAzrael says:

    If someone with photographic memory did it, yes it would still be theft because it is the INTENT here. If you read it remember it and don’t use it – obviously no problem. Its the use of the IP for profit that is the problem. That aside, photographic memory is pretty rare anyway.

    And Steve – if she can’t afford a cook book do you really think she can afford to keep you in the manner to which you’d like to become accustomed ?

  8. Dakingisdead says:

    Definitely breach of copyright and so illegal.

    The shop are fools and betraying their suppliers and authors.

    The photographic memory thing is rubbish. Rememebering something does not allow exact replication no matter what you see in the movies or popular myth.

    Having said that I have been guilty of looking up the odd recipe or remembering a tip I may have picked up whilst browsing. But the internet is definitely superior. As someone said for any particular recipe the internet will have dozens of variations from traditional to avant garde variations.

    I still haven’t found a recipe for that sea urchin dish you mentioned though.

  9. will says:

    “Definitely breach of copyright and so illegal.”


    more likely fair use exemption. The legal argumnents would be interesting.

    moral and ethical?

    who doesn’t download stuff but the shop owner would be entitled to throw her out

    • aelfheld says:

      Fair use?

      Under what circumstances does taking pictures of a book qualify as ‘fair use’?

      Clarify please.

  10. kevin says:

    At the great risk of being racist, this is fairly typical Asian disregard of property rights.

  11. LordAzrael says:

    I think you might need to read up on what constitutes “Fair Use”. Australia don’t have fair use exemption. We have “Fair Dealing” which requires the purpose to be one of review or criticism
    research or study, news-reporting,judicial proceedings or professional legal advice
    parody or satire, but also requires that it be “fair” – “In order for a certain use to be a fair dealing, it must fall within one of these purposes and must also be ‘fair’. What is fair will depend on all the circumstances, including the nature of the work, the nature of the use and the effect of the use on any commercial market for the work.”

    Hence my comment is is clearly a breach of copywrite stands.


  12. LordAzrael says:

    Kevin – anyone who has any dealings with Chinese Factories would agree. One of the major risks of using China as a manufacturing resource is the risk of your own products being bootlegged out of your own factories. We need to understand cultural differences instead of viewing other cultures as being “just like us”. The reality is we have different histories and values. Look at how scammers are treated in some African countries as “entrepreneurs” 😉

  13. Anonymous says:


  14. Steve at the Pub says:

    No moral dilemma whatsover, she should have been slung out on her ear.

  15. Bob says:

    This is just like that movie, “The Falcon and the Snowman”, where he used the mini-camera to take snapshots of the Pentagon’s “recipes” and sold them to the Soviets. This person should be tried for treason under Pakistan’s tribal-justice system, in the same way as Dr Shakil Afridi.

  16. Bob says:

    I think it was with Shawn Pen, and the other guy must have been Teller. And some guy who can be a Russian or a Belgian in any movie without anyone noticing the difference.

    • aelfheld says:

      Oh dear.

      It’s Sean Penn.

      Penn (Fraser Jillette) and (Raymond Joseph) Teller are illusionists, comedians, and musicians.

      Sean Penn is a loudmouth, arrogant, booby.

  17. If it was my shop I would have chucked her out. I would have also had the security guard replaced by one with balls. Recipes are just aids to cooking. It’s understanding what’s going on that’s important. You can have all the recipes in the world and still be a crummy cook.

  18. aelfheld says:

    Mayhap she’s trying to establish her Cherokee lineage?

  19. perturbed says:

    It depends on how many pictures she took, but if I were the guard I’d have stopped her after two or three.

    I have sometimes taken a phonecam picture of the cover of a book or of an inside page with title, author etc. when I’m on holiday, so as to be able to buy it when I get home from my travels, especially when the book is huge and my luggage allowance is pushing the limit. Where I have copied more extensively, I have almost always ended up buying the thing online or in a store later, if it can be found at all.

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