Steal This Barcode

from the do-it-yourself-repricing dept

Apparently there’s a website out there that lets people

design their own barcodes (including whatever price you want) that can be placed over the real barcodes of products in stores (not legally, of course). The site, itself, is a pretty brilliantly done piece of satire. Wal-Mart however, doesn’t get the humor, and says it’s an “incitement to theft and fraud.” The question at the heart of this are whether or not the 10-digit barcodes numbers are intellectual property? Clearly, actually replacing the prices in stores breaks the law. However, is setting up a site that lets you create the barcodes guilty of the same? The (anonymous) person behind the site points out: “If the argument is that we’re facilitating theft, then they should be going after the people who invented the barcode, which is the thing that’s making it easier to steal.”

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Comments on “Steal This Barcode”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not so easy?

ah– it’s a trick.

I recently found a dvd that I wanted advertised on the Border’s website. When I got to the store, it was significantly more expensive. I told them about the price on the internet, then they entered a product code or something and got the real advertised price.

My theory is that they can get more money out of the inattentive or the impulse shopper this way.

Consumers have to work to defend themselves. It is no accident that the majority of barcode price errors are in the store’s favor. If it really were an accident, there would be an even distribution of wins and loses for the store.

Bryan Price says:


for starters, what is on the barcode is a UPC, not the price. How they handle barcodes that give you “Ground beef, 3.43 lbs, $5.32” I don’t know. Maybe I should hook up my DigiCat and scan it to see what it actually reads.

Now, a long time ago when scanners weren’t all over the place like they are now, I can remember Club Foods (A warehouse like chain) having a table set up at the entrance with markers that were supposed to allow you to change the UPC so you could mark your own price. Of course it never worked. And I figured that if I did manage to change something that would work, it would be for the worse.

Kent says:


Perhaps instead of the police going after the people that break into houses they should go after the manufacturers of the locks that were not secure enough, or the windows that were not unbreakable. Can’t blame someone for breaking into your house if you haven’t installed infra-red motion detectors with concealed heat-seeking poison dart shooters.

Mike (profile) says:


Perhaps instead of the police going after the people that break into houses they should go after the manufacturers of the locks that were not secure enough, or the windows that were not unbreakable. Can’t blame someone for breaking into your house if you haven’t installed infra-red motion detectors with concealed heat-seeking poison dart shooters.

I think you’re missing the point… They’re saying that police should absolutely go after anyone who actually does use this stuff to steal… however, what they’re trying to do in this case is exactly what you say: going after the people who make the tools that people use to break in.

captain garbleburger says:


It’s so crazy to me that this is going on, I found out about it last night and it jostled all sorts of strange contradicting emotions. It’s wrong, that much is clear. How do you justify applying the barcode for a can of soup onto a new dvd recording deck? Of course I do feel that many many things in this world are horribly overpriced, but that doesn’t give someone the right to cheat the manufacturer / store etc out of hundreds of thousands of dollars over some period of time. What is the closest punishment, is it shoplifting? It’s really messed up. And what’s messed up is I realize it, but if I had the balls I would probably do it. So there’s that.

Justin says:

Re: Re-Code

No, just because things are overpriced doesn’t give people the right to cheat the store. But people do have the right to freely share information, regardless of how it’s packaged — in this case, what barcode scans for what item.

What bothers me is that Wal*Mart is taking legal action to try to limit free speech; others who posted above have called it punishing the makers of the tools rather than those who find the tools’ faults and there is some logic in that. But it’s much more fundamentally wrong, what Wal*Mart is trying to do: Anything for the bottom dollar, even if that includes ignoring every principle written down by a bunch of really smart guys 227 years ago.


maouse says:

Re: Re: Re-Code

Wal-mart is attempting to limit theft damage and fraud damage from a harmful site. The problem they have is that they must prove they have been damaged. Shrinkage occurs in these stores. Is it due to’s site? I think not. Will it be in the future? maybe. Their laywers need to seek an injunction, not bring fraud charges. Re-code also needs to point out ALL of the software that can print these labels is legal. All of this information can be legally obtained by buying the products Wal-Mart sells. Consequently, how can Wal-Mart hope to win? Well, the guy who wrote the book about becoming a contract killer went to jail. Welcome to America’s wonderful court system.

Brett says:

Re: Re: Re: Re-Code

Stores that really want to stop “shopping bag” theft (hiding additional or mis-labled items in your cart) already do address this problem. Cases in point: Fry’s Electronics and Costco/Sam’s Club manually review your receipt upon exit to see if you actually have the items you’re supposed to…and sometimes they find items that you’ve forgotten to pick up!

The bottom line here is…the bottom line. Merchants are trying to reduce their costs in every possible way: elimination of price-on-product tags, installation of self-check-out cash registers, reduction of inventory to the bare minimum. Adding the extra security for checking the contents of your shopping bag is fairly expensive, and only works when you don’t have mobs of people trying to exit the store.
There are other technologies available that are much harder to defeat than barcode: embedded RF tags (as advertised by IBM on TV a couple of years ago)…or for that matter, internet shopping. However, these alternatives cost more and are much less acceptable than the “traditional” shopping experience – entering a store, playing with the merchandise, talking to a clerk. Most people won’t pay the extra price (either cost or time) these alternatives demand. IBM has installed very few (mostly demo) sites with RF product tags, and PeaPod’s failure shows just how little most people will pay for convenience. Which leaves retailers only one alternative: make it too hard for the average shopper to defeat the existing technology.
To summarize: while the attack on Re-Code may be unjustified, it is the cheapest way for big retailers to address this problem. Same thing as Napster’s demise: cheaper to remove a competitor than to develop a new marketing plan…
(BTW, you DID know that self-checkout terminals weigh the products you put in your bag? If you reprice a CD, it better have the same mass as the item it replaces…)

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