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Is Web Scraping Legal in some Countries?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

 

What is Web Scraping?

Web scraping (also called web crawling, screen scraping, or web data extraction) is a familiar term for most people, especially in such a digitalized data-dominated era. To define web scraping, basically, it is a computer-based technique to access the web via the HTTP or the web browser to acquire data. With the help of web scraping, you can automate the process of data extraction no matter how large the data volume is. It also saves you from tedious manual work of copying and pasting.

 

What can Web Scraping Do?

The power of web scraping is amazing. It is commonly applied in many aspects of our life, especially on the Internet.

Let's take Google as an example. Google uses web scraping to build its search database, and most websites will give Google permission to scrape their websites for a higher ranking in the search results.

Here are some other use cases in different industries:

  • E-commerce: Retailers use web scraping to automate the process of tracking their competitors' pricing, building up product profiles and collecting customer reviews for sentiment analysis.
  • Marketing/Advertising: New ideas are crucial to content marketing. Web scraping is used to collect data from different sites, such as social media websites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the data can help generate insights to create fresh and attractive content.
  • Real estate: Many property companies scrape listings from different property websites like Gumtree.com, Realtor.com to aggregate collected data. 

 

The concerns of Web Scraping

While web scraping is widely used in different industries, the practice of web scraping has also drawn a lot of concerns and controversies. On one hand, web scraping allows easier access to data and facilitates information collection. On the other hand, many people are worried that it can be used for malicious purposes and brings about information abuse. For example:

  • Scraping private and protected information could invade the right of privacy;
  • Web scraping is often done in complete neglect of the website's Terms of Service (ToS);
  • Scraping copyrighted information could undermine the rights and interests of the website;
  • The abusive manners of web scraping would also influence the normal operation of the website, causing unbearable load on the web servers.

 

So, is Web Scraping Illegal or Not?

Many people may suffer from such a concern: is web scraping legal or illegal? Or will web scraping get people in trouble, such as lawsuits?

Since web scraping is still a relatively new computer-related concept, in most countries the line between legitimate and evil use of this technique is still hard to define. Because of that, there have been a lot of lawsuits to battle its legality in recent years. Even till now, the line is still obscure.

Although the law is not clear, there are still some regulations applied to unauthorized web scraping in some countries.

In the US, there are major types of legal claims that the website owners can use to avoid undesired web scraping. For example, "Trespass to Chattel" protects against the authorized use of the property without getting permission from the owner. Here are other two regulations on web scraping:

The legality of web scraping varies across countries. In most countries, the law enforcement specifically for web scraping is not clearly defined yet. In my opinion, web scraping is definitely not a crime as long as you are on the right track.

 

Tips

Remember that it is possible that the owners of websites can sue you for any reason. If you don't respect the rules, then you may put yourself in a dangerous position. To avoid being involved in some lawsuits, here are some tips for you.

  1. Respect and follow the Terms of Service (ToS).
    • Always adhere to the ToS of the site regarding data extraction. It's important that you refer to the ToS page to go through the agreement and policies to stay in a safe zone. If possible, get the prior permission from the owner of the website.
  2. Scrape at a reasonable and moderate rate.
    • Be gentle and don't be aggressive. Give the scraped website some breathing space. When you're scraping, you should hit the website with a reasonable time interval and keep the number of requests in control. Too frequent scraping requests could cause heavy load and even crashes to the website.
  3. Pay attention to the copyright/patent.
    • Don't scrape the copyrighted or patented data because you could be involved with copyright infringement. You should always respect the laws.
  4. Make good use of the scraped data.
    • Don't share the scraped data randomly with others. Use data wisely to generate more insights and help improve your business.

If you are hesitating whether to scrape a certain website,  a safe way to do this is to consult a lawyer for advice.

 

Conclusion 

Web scraping itself is not illegal, but people need to be careful with how to use this technique even though there are still a lot of grey areas around law enforcement of web scraping. 

Since businesses rely more on data to expand and develop nowadays, sometimes to have access to the latest data is a must for projects or businesses. It is undeniable that web scraping makes it easier to get access to data. As long as you don't scrape at an aggressive rate or use the scraped data for illegal purposes, in most cases you will be alright.

In addition, there are many easy-to-use web scraping tools available in the market. With these tools, you don’t have to learn any programming languages to build a web crawler from scratch. Octoparse is one of the most popular web scraping tools. If you have a scraping project to deal with, Octoparse can be a great tool to start with, and there are no legal concerns behind it. Download Octoparse for a free 14-day trial today!

 

Artículo en español: ¿El Web Scraping Es Legal en Algunos Países?
También puede leer artículos de web scraping en el Website Oficial

 

References:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2015/03/24/qvc-cant-stop-web-scraping/#2b55621f3ca3

https://towardsdatascience.com/is-web-crawling-legal-a758c8fcacde

https://benbernardblog.com/web-scraping-and-crawling-are-perfectly-legal-right/

 

Author: Vanny  

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More Resources

 

Top 20 Web Scraping Tools to Scrape the Websites Quickly

Top 30 Big Data Tools for Data Analysis

Web Scraping Templates Take Away

How to Build a Web Crawler - A Guide for Beginners

Video: Create Your First Scraper with Octoparse 7.X

 

 

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