Is Web Scraping Legal?

When it comes to harvesting data in its best form and breeding it at large, only web scraping shows up as a viable solution. Scraping lets you have a hold over the widely-spread public data and use it for your good. But, seeing the stringent data privacy laws, one might get confused about whether it’s wise to access public data. Many of us even think that web scraping isn’t legal.

With so many dilemmas, it’s not possible to harvest the power of publically-offered internet data and use web scraping in full swing. So, if you’re planning to use web scraping, know about its legal status first.

To make your web scrapping experience easier:

Web Scraping – Meaning and Myths

Quickly, let’s learn about web scraping, which is a widely used practice of collecting public data from resources like websites and online platforms. The collected data is later saved and sorted in a manner that it’s quickly accessible for marketing and other purposes.

We all do web scraping all the time. Whenever you copy any internet data and copy and save it in a local file for future reference, you scrape the data. For enterprises, you do the same process with the help of a web scraping tool at a large scale and fully automated manner.

The current wave of data privacy law has forced some of us to raise questions on the legality of web scraping as it involves accessing the data of others. Many rumors and myths are circulating in the public domain about web scraping. If you want to make the most of the web scraping technique used, you need to get rid of these myths and get familiar with the truth behind web scraping.

Myth #1 – Web scraping is illegal

This is perhaps the biggest and prevailing myth about web scraping. People think web scraping is illegal for many reasons, like accessing public data, using it for business purposes, etc. Well, it’s time to know the truth about is web scraping is legal or not.

The trust is web scraping is legal as long as you access public and non-copyrighted data. Accessing data that is already on the internet is not breaking or infringing the data privacy law. This data is meant for public use. So, you have nothing to worry about.

But, if you access or try to access private data, it’s a red flag. Accessing private or copyrighted data with the help of any tool or process isn’t permitted or recommended. It will have serious implications as per the copyright law of the country. So, you need to be extra attentive during performing web scraping and try to ensure that no private or protected data is obtained.

Web scraping is illegal - Reddit comment

If you’re wondering, ‘Is web scraping legal Reddit’, the above screenshot will bring clarity on this.

Myth #2 – Web scraping is just another name for hacking

We won’t be surprised if we hear someone saying that web scraping is hacking only as it involves using someone’s data. But, this is a myth. There are stark differences between hacking and web scrapping.

Hacking involves using malicious content like viruses and malware to access private data. In fact, the prime aim of hacking is to gain unauthorized access to an individual or organization’s sensitive and private data only.

But, web scraping is not this. Its reach is until public data only. It gathers that data that is already present. There is nothing like breaking security measures, injecting malware, or breaking cybersecurity protections. It simply means collecting widespread public data. So, hacking and web scraping are entirely different, even though they both entail collecting data.

Myth #3 – Web scraping doesn’t require any coding

As copy-pasting internet data is also web scraping, many think that web scraping requires no coding skills. Well, it’s true up to a certain extent. But, if you’re doing web scraping at a large scale and involve huge data collection, it would require the help of an automated web scraper tool.

As long as you’re using a pre-made web scraper, you don’t have to worry about coding. But, if you’re creating a personalized web scraper, be ready to get involved in extensive coding. You have to create code for everything, for page load, data collection, and many more. This is too much coding.

But, this myth will soon become true as the outburst of the #NoCode movement is now promoting the use of no-code tools and techniques. So, honestly speaking, it’s not a myth but a truth.

Myth #4 – Web scrapers are viruses/malware and operate in a grey area of law

It’s a very common misconception. People think that as web scrapers are accessing public data, they are bots or viruses-infected software. But, the reality is different. If you take the help of a verified and trusted web scraper, you experience full ease and perfection.

Web scraping tools are legitimate and are offered by established companies. They adhere to the rules and regulations. They don’t break any law and promise to provide you with the best aid.

Myth #5 – Web scraping is useful for businesses only

If you think web scraping is all about businesses, you’re away from reality. Based on the end-user’s intentions, web scraping can have far-reaching significance. It’s equally suitable for companies and individuals.  You only have to explain its score and define your needs. Once that’s clear, you’re all set to use web scraping in its full swing.

Useful articles:

The Elements of Good and Ethical Web Scrapping

Even though web scraping gets a clear chit as most myths are wrong and the truth is it’s legal, you can’t be lenient. You have to be extra careful while creating a web scraper. You need to stick to certain rules so that web scraping doesn’t make a headache for you.

Your prime aim should be to create an ethical and legal web scraper and web scraping strategy. Here are a few features that describe the goodness of ethical web scraping.

The web scraper didn’t try to access something private. An ethical web scraper will only have eyes on public data. Anything that is behind a firewall or password is not for public use, and your web scrapers shouldn’t try to reach out to it.

The captured information should be factual and should be accessed with the help of infringing any copyright.

The web scraper should be useful for creating a transformative product. The purpose of data scrapping shouldn’t be overexploiting a product or creating a copy of an already existing service/product. Use it to make your product better and improve service delivery.

If you manage to adhere to all these practices, you’re on the right track as you’re scraping the web in the right manner.

See what useful insights a Reddit user brought up on safe and secure web scraping.

safe and secure web scraping - Reddit comment

If you need to know about is web scraping legal in US, pay attention to what we’re going to say next.

Web Scraping’s Legal Status in US and Europe – The CFAA and DMCA Dilemma

Web scraping in US and Europe is driven majorly by CFAA and DMCA Act. CFAA or Computer Fraud and Abuse Act came into being in 1986 and forbids anyone to access a computer in a non-permissible fashion.

In the shadow of this act, many data hosts have charged scrapers for breaking the law by pressing criminal charges. LinkedIn also charged hiQ Labs for the same crime.

LinkedIn sent many warning letters to hiQ to stop scraping the platform and access public user data. It ended up in a legal dispute.

Gladly, the final verdict is out now. Let us see what does US court say about it now.

Web Scraping: The US Court Reaffirms

The court favored hiQ and permitted it to scrap LinkedIn as long as public user information and non-protected data are scraped. The court affirmed that hiQ is not breaking DFCA law, which was the acquisition of LinkedIn.

This verdict brought more clarity to the legal status of web scraping. It was a huge win for activists and journalists that were banking upon public data to make their reporting more effective but were hand-tied because few data holders were accusing them of breaking DFAA.

With this verdict out, they can now freely scrape the public internet data. Anyone looking for public data for research and academic purposes.

safe and secure web scraping - Reddit comment

People on Reddit celebrated this success.

There is one more web scraping concerning the law, which is DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It was also established in 1988 and governs the activities trying to bypass copyright measures.

Data hosts take the help of this law to prove web scrapers guilty of accessing copyrighted material. However, it has no strong impact as long as web scrapers do fair work. Also, the scope of DMCA law is dubious.

For instance, Google can claim copyright on the interface and page layout. But, it can’t claim copyright on the content or fact present on the pages that one gets as a search result. So, it’s hard to define the scope of DMCA, and it, alone, can’t prevent web scrapers from working and scraping the internet.

That was the status of web scraping in the US. Let’s talk about Europe now.

Legal Aspects of Web Scraping in Europe

The continent permits copyright content scraping to understand the guidance of the DSM Directive. Articles 3 and 4 explain data and text mining are permitted when any automated process collects general information. It involves the mining of trends, patterns, and correlations.

What’s worth noting here is that web scraping is permitted for copyrighted content, even for information generation. Here are some more facts to know about web scraping in Europe:

  • Only lawful access to public data is permitted
  • Scientific research purposes allow one to scrap anything
  • Businesses can scrap the web only in a highly machine-readable format

All in all, web scraping is permitted and legal as long as you deal with public data.

Conclusion

Web scraping is a powerful tool for accessing copious public data. But, before you try your hand at it, you need to learn when is web scraping legal and when it’s not. There is a very thin line between the legality and illegality of web scraping, and you need to make sure that you don’t cross that line. You have to ensure that only public data is what you’re scraping.

Laying a hand on any private data means inviting trouble. Also, you need to be aware of specific data laws beforehand. Always try to find out whether or not the website you’re trying to scrape is scraping-friendly. Read the data privacy disclosure and never do anything that isn’t permitted. As long as you manage to perform web scraping as per these rules, you are safe.

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FAQs

Can you get in trouble for scraping a website?

As long as you’re only scraping the website for public data, you’re not near to trouble. But, if you’re trying to access copyrighted and protected data from the internet, you’re inviting trouble. You can easily get caught and charged with infringing copyright law for such activity. And there will be an array of troubles if the content’s owner decides to take legal action.

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