Data scraping is illegal!

Sasha Bouloudnine
June 3, 2022
3 min read

Data Scraping consists in collecting data on the internet from publicly available sources, leveraging bot-built automations. It thus allows users to gather data at high-speed, and consequently extremely competitive price. Endly, it will allow you to convert unstructured data, mainly from web pages online, into clean, usable, structured datasets.

According to a large-scale industry research from MarketResearchFuture, the industry is valued in 2019 at USD 420 mio., and is expected to reach roughly USD 1 billion (!) by 2026, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.1% during the forecast period 2020-2026.

Emerging and extremely promising fast-pace double digit-growth industry in a word. Huh.

Though, while reading the publicly accessible Linkedin User Agreement, you’ll quickly notify any data scraping activity is explicitly forbidden:

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Don’t. Explicit enough.

Thus, is such a large industry relying on illegal practices? After all, is it not similar to stealing?

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tl;dr

Let’s be clear here: data scraping is of course a fully legal activity.

Public data, specifically facts (prices, names, locations), are not related to any property ownership. Private companies denying automated access are overstepping its rights, privatizing collectively-owned information.

As all area, the scope of activity is though limited to restrictions:

  1. no copyright-related material
  2. no container replication

In other words, you can collect data at high-scale through data scraping activity. But, please, do not gather artworks, and do not reproduce initial database structure.

Period.

Overview

Our data

Publicly available data on the internet, like products pricing, email addresses, or real estate location, is not related to any copyright. This Introduction paper from Cornell University is specifying through an extremely explicit language:

Data that is factual has no copyright protection under U.S. law; it is not possible to copyright facts.

Basically speaking, you can collect data manually, staffing a low-paid, unhappy intern, whose 9-5 is copy-pasting content on a web page. Or you can use a state-of-the art, technology-driven, competitive scraper. Getting structured data at a competitive price. And leveraging precious human resources.

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Art is art

Though, as also mentioned in this extremely valuable article from LegalZoom, some data publicly available on the Internet are not facts, but artworks protected by copyright.

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Data scraping is thus a legal activity, but downloading artworks available on the internet at large scale and re-selling them on the Internet without rewarding the original maker is of course a clear violation of the right.

Art is art.

Content only

Endly, as properly mentioned by the excellent paper from the Cornell University, if facts public property, and can be gathered, container is not:

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A database, on the other hand, can have a thin layer of copyright protection. Deciding what data needs to be included in a database, how to organize the data, and how to relate different data elements are all creative decisions that may receive copyright protection.

In other words, if the facts are publicly owned, the structure of the container hosting these facts — such as table organization, datapoints labels, and overall database architecture — is to be considered as a copyright-material.

Content, yes! Container, be careful.

Conclusion

Data scraping is a fully legal — and highly value-added — activity, allowing the final user to rely on structured and clean data, acquired at a competitive price. Publicly available data is not related to any copyright and can be considered as collectively owned.

If some large private companies are explicitly banning this kind of activity, they do not rely on any legal support, and are overstepping their rights.

In April 2022 it happened again: the Ninth Circuit rejected again Linkedin prosecution over HiQ Labs and found that scraping data that is publicly accessible on the internet is not a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA.

Happy scraping!

🦞

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