Data Scraping: Theft or Fair Game?

Newmeyer Dillion

In the modern information age, data has become one of society’s most valuable commodities. More and more information is being put out into the world all the time, and businesses, and even entire industries, centered on collecting and then selling data have sprung up. Others have seen more success in making data freely available to attract views and clicks and earning money indirectly, such as through ad revenue. This business model is the foundation of the social networking phenomenon, as well as many other data services. But what happens when another business collects, or “scrapes,” that freely available data and then uses it in a way that the original aggregator disapproves of, or that may even be harmful to their business? Does doing the initial work to create or collect data entitle a company to control how that data is used, or should it be expected that this type of behavior will occur when information is made freely available on the internet? Courts have struggled to answer this question and have reached differing conclusions in different cases. Companies planning to make data publicly available online, or to use data made available by others, would do well to closely examine the cases that have been decided so far if they don’t want their business disrupted by lengthy and costly litigation.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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