Is Web Scraping Illegal? Depends on What the Meaning of the …
Depending on who you ask, web scraping can be loved or hated.
Web scraping has existed for a long time and, in its good form, it’s a key underpinning of the internet. “Good bots” enable, for example, search engines to index web content, price comparison services to save consumers money, and market researchers to gauge sentiment on social media.
“Bad bots, ” however, fetch content from a website with the intent of using it for purposes outside the site owner’s control. Bad bots make up 20 percent of all web traffic and are used to conduct a variety of harmful activities, such as denial of service attacks, competitive data mining, online fraud, account hijacking, data theft, stealing of intellectual property, unauthorized vulnerability scans, spam and digital ad fraud.
So, is it Illegal to Scrape a Website?
So is it legal or illegal? Web scraping and crawling aren’t illegal by themselves. After all, you could scrape or crawl your own website, without a hitch.
Startups love it because it’s a cheap and powerful way to gather data without the need for partnerships. Big companies use web scrapers for their own gain but also don’t want others to use bots against them.
The general opinion on the matter does not seem to matter anymore because in the past 12 months it has become very clear that the federal court system is cracking down more than ever.
Let’s take a look back. Web scraping started in a legal grey area where the use of bots to scrape a website was simply a nuisance. Not much could be done about the practice until in 2000 eBay filed a preliminary injunction against Bidder’s Edge. In the injunction eBay claimed that the use of bots on the site, against the will of the company violated Trespass to Chattels law.
The court granted the injunction because users had to opt in and agree to the terms of service on the site and that a large number of bots could be disruptive to eBay’s computer systems. The lawsuit was settled out of court so it all never came to a head but the legal precedent was set.
In 2001 however, a travel agency sued a competitor who had “scraped” its prices from its Web site to help the rival set its own prices. The judge ruled that the fact that this scraping was not welcomed by the site’s owner was not sufficient to make it “unauthorized access” for the purpose of federal hacking laws.
Two years later the legal standing for eBay v Bidder’s Edge was implicitly overruled in the “Intel v. Hamidi”, a case interpreting California’s common law trespass to chattels. It was the wild west once again. Over the next several years the courts ruled time and time again that simply putting “do not scrape us” in your website terms of service was not enough to warrant a legally binding agreement. For you to enforce that term, a user must explicitly agree or consent to the terms. This left the field wide open for scrapers to do as they wish.
Fast forward a few years and you start seeing a shift in opinion. In 2009 Facebook won one of the first copyright suits against a web scraper. This laid the groundwork for numerous lawsuits that tie any web scraping with a direct copyright violation and very clear monetary damages. The most recent case being AP v Meltwater where the courts stripped what is referred to as fair use on the internet.
Previously, for academic, personal, or information aggregation people could rely on fair use and use web scrapers. The court now gutted the fair use clause that companies had used to defend web scraping. The court determined that even small percentages, sometimes as little as 4. 5% of the content, are significant enough to not fall under fair use. The only caveat the court made was based on the simple fact that this data was available for purchase. Had it not been, it is unclear how they would have ruled. Then a few months back the gauntlet was dropped.
Andrew Auernheimer was convicted of hacking based on the act of web scraping. Although the data was unprotected and publically available via AT&T’s website, the fact that he wrote web scrapers to harvest that data in mass amounted to “brute force attack”. He did not have to consent to terms of service to deploy his bots and conduct the web scraping. The data was not available for purchase. It wasn’t behind a login. He did not even financially gain from the aggregation of the data. Most importantly, it was buggy programing by AT&T that exposed this information in the first place. Yet Andrew was at fault. This isn’t just a civil suit anymore. This charge is a felony violation that is on par with hacking or denial of service attacks and carries up to a 15-year sentence for each charge.
In 2016, Congress passed its first legislation specifically to target bad bots — the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, which bans the use of software that circumvents security measures on ticket seller websites. Automated ticket scalping bots use several techniques to do their dirty work including web scraping that incorporates advanced business logic to identify scalping opportunities, input purchase details into shopping carts, and even resell inventory on secondary markets.
To counteract this type of activity, the BOTS Act:
Prohibits the circumvention of a security measure used to enforce ticket purchasing limits for an event with an attendance capacity of greater than 200 persons.
Prohibits the sale of an event ticket obtained through such a circumvention violation if the seller participated in, had the ability to control, or should have known about it.
Treats violations as unfair or deceptive acts under the Federal Trade Commission Act. The bill provides authority to the FTC and states to enforce against such violations.
In other words, if you’re a venue, organization or ticketing software platform, it is still on you to defend against this fraudulent activity during your major onsales.
The UK seems to have followed the US with its Digital Economy Act 2017 which achieved Royal Assent in April. The Act seeks to protect consumers in a number of ways in an increasingly digital society, including by “cracking down on ticket touts by making it a criminal offence for those that misuse bot technology to sweep up tickets and sell them at inflated prices in the secondary market. ”
In the summer of 2017, LinkedIn sued hiQ Labs, a San Francisco-based startup. hiQ was scraping publicly available LinkedIn profiles to offer clients, according to its website, “a crystal ball that helps you determine skills gaps or turnover risks months ahead of time. ”
You might find it unsettling to think that your public LinkedIn profile could be used against you by your employer.
Yet a judge on Aug. 14, 2017 decided this is okay. Judge Edward Chen of the U. S. District Court in San Francisco agreed with hiQ’s claim in a lawsuit that Microsoft-owned LinkedIn violated antitrust laws when it blocked the startup from accessing such data. He ordered LinkedIn to remove the barriers within 24 hours. LinkedIn has filed to appeal.
The ruling contradicts previous decisions clamping down on web scraping. And it opens a Pandora’s box of questions about social media user privacy and the right of businesses to protect themselves from data hijacking.
There’s also the matter of fairness. LinkedIn spent years creating something of real value. Why should it have to hand it over to the likes of hiQ — paying for the servers and bandwidth to host all that bot traffic on top of their own human users, just so hiQ can ride LinkedIn’s coattails?
I am in the business of blocking bots. Chen’s ruling has sent a chill through those of us in the cybersecurity industry devoted to fighting web-scraping bots.
I think there is a legitimate need for some companies to be able to prevent unwanted web scrapers from accessing their site.
In October of 2017, and as reported by Bloomberg, Ticketmaster sued Prestige Entertainment, claiming it used computer programs to illegally buy as many as 40 percent of the available seats for performances of “Hamilton” in New York and the majority of the tickets Ticketmaster had available for the Mayweather v. Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas two years ago.
Prestige continued to use the illegal bots even after it paid a $3. 35 million to settle New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe into the ticket resale industry.
Under that deal, Prestige promised to abstain from using bots, Ticketmaster said in the complaint. Ticketmaster asked for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and a court order to stop Prestige from using bots.
Are the existing laws too antiquated to deal with the problem? Should new legislation be introduced to provide more clarity? Most sites don’t have any web scraping protections in place. Do the companies have some burden to prevent web scraping?
As the courts try to further decide the legality of scraping, companies are still having their data stolen and the business logic of their websites abused. Instead of looking to the law to eventually solve this technology problem, it’s time to start solving it with anti-bot and anti-scraping technology today.
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Web Scraping 101: 10 Myths that Everyone Should Know
1. Web Scraping is illegal
Many people have false impressions about web scraping. It is because there are people don’t respect the great work on the internet and use it by stealing the content. Web scraping isn’t illegal by itself, yet the problem comes when people use it without the site owner’s permission and disregard of the ToS (Terms of Service). According to the report, 2% of online revenues can be lost due to the misuse of content through web scraping. Even though web scraping doesn’t have a clear law and terms to address its application, it’s encompassed with legal regulations. For example:
Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
Violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
Trespass to Chattel
Copy right infringement
Breach of contract
Photo by Amel Majanovic on Unsplash
2. Web scraping and web crawling are the same
Web scraping involves specific data extraction on a targeted webpage, for instance, extract data about sales leads, real estate listing and product pricing. In contrast, web crawling is what search engines do. It scans and indexes the whole website along with its internal links. “Crawler” navigates through the web pages without a specific goal.
3. You can scrape any website
It is often the case that people ask for scraping things like email addresses, Facebook posts, or LinkedIn information. According to an article titled “Is web crawling legal? ” it is important to note the rules before conduct web scraping:
Private data that requires username and passcodes can not be scrapped.
Compliance with the ToS (Terms of Service) which explicitly prohibits the action of web scraping.
Don’t copy data that is copyrighted.
One person can be prosecuted under several laws. For example, one scraped some confidential information and sold it to a third party disregarding the desist letter sent by the site owner. This person can be prosecuted under the law of Trespass to Chattel, Violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and Misappropriation.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t scrape social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. They are friendly to scraping services that follow the provisions of the file. For Facebook, you need to get its written permission before conducting the behavior of automated data collection.
4. You need to know how to code
A web scraping tool (data extraction tool) is very useful regarding non-tech professionals like marketers, statisticians, financial consultant, bitcoin investors, researchers, journalists, etc. Octoparse launched a one of a kind feature – web scraping templates that are preformatted scrapers that cover over 14 categories on over 30 websites including Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Instagram and more. All you have to do is to enter the keywords/URLs at the parameter without any complex task configuration. Web scraping with Python is time-consuming. On the other side, a web scraping template is efficient and convenient to capture the data you need.
5. You can use scraped data for anything
It is perfectly legal if you scrape data from websites for public consumption and use it for analysis. However, it is not legal if you scrape confidential information for profit. For example, scraping private contact information without permission, and sell them to a 3rd party for profit is illegal. Besides, repackaging scraped content as your own without citing the source is not ethical as well. You should follow the idea of no spamming, no plagiarism, or any fraudulent use of data is prohibited according to the law.
Check Below Video: 10 Myths About Web Scraping!
6. A web scraper is versatile
Maybe you’ve experienced particular websites that change their layouts or structure once in a while. Don’t get frustrated when you come across such websites that your scraper fails to read for the second time. There are many reasons. It isn’t necessarily triggered by identifying you as a suspicious bot. It also may be caused by different geo-locations or machine access. In these cases, it is normal for a web scraper to fail to parse the website before we set the adjustment.
Read this article: How to Scrape Websites Without Being Blocked in 5 Mins?
7. You can scrape at a fast speed
You may have seen scraper ads saying how speedy their crawlers are. It does sound good as they tell you they can collect data in seconds. However, you are the lawbreaker who will be prosecuted if damages are caused. It is because a scalable data request at a fast speed will overload a web server which might lead to a server crash. In this case, the person is responsible for the damage under the law of “trespass to chattels” law (Dryer and Stockton 2013). If you are not sure whether the website is scrapable or not, please ask the web scraping service provider. Octoparse is a responsible web scraping service provider who places clients’ satisfaction in the first place. It is crucial for Octoparse to help our clients get the problem solved and to be successful.
8. API and Web scraping are the same
API is like a channel to send your data request to a web server and get desired data. API will return the data in JSON format over the HTTP protocol. For example, Facebook API, Twitter API, and Instagram API. However, it doesn’t mean you can get any data you ask for. Web scraping can visualize the process as it allows you to interact with the websites. Octoparse has web scraping templates. It is even more convenient for non-tech professionals to extract data by filling out the parameters with keywords/URLs.
9. The scraped data only works for our business after being cleaned and analyzed
Many data integration platforms can help visualize and analyze the data. In comparison, it looks like data scraping doesn’t have a direct impact on business decision making. Web scraping indeed extracts raw data of the webpage that needs to be processed to gain insights like sentiment analysis. However, some raw data can be extremely valuable in the hands of gold miners.
With Octoparse Google Search web scraping template to search for an organic search result, you can extract information including the titles and meta descriptions about your competitors to determine your SEO strategies; For retail industries, web scraping can be used to monitor product pricing and distributions. For example, Amazon may crawl Flipkart and Walmart under the “Electronic” catalog to assess the performance of electronic items.
10. Web scraping can only be used in business
Web scraping is widely used in various fields besides lead generation, price monitoring, price tracking, market analysis for business. Students can also leverage a Google scholar web scraping template to conduct paper research. Realtors are able to conduct housing research and predict the housing market. You will be able to find Youtube influencers or Twitter evangelists to promote your brand or your own news aggregation that covers the only topics you want by scraping news media and RSS feeds.
Dryer, A. J., and Stockton, J. 2013. “Internet ‘Data Scraping’: A Primer for Counseling Clients, ” New York Law Journal. Retrieved from
Search engine scraping – Wikipedia
Search engine scraping is the process of harvesting URLs, descriptions, or other information from search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, Petal or Sogou. This is a specific form of screen scraping or web scraping dedicated to search engines only.
Most commonly larger search engine optimization (SEO) providers depend on regularly scraping keywords from search engines, especially Google, Petal, Sogou to monitor the competitive position of their customers’ websites for relevant keywords or their indexing status.
Search engines like Google have implemented various forms of human detection to block any sort of automated access to their service,  in the intent of driving the users of scrapers towards buying their official APIs instead.
The process of entering a website and extracting data in an automated fashion is also often called “crawling”. Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Petal or Sogou get almost all their data from automated crawling bots.
Google is the by far largest search engine with most users in numbers as well as most revenue in creative advertisements, which makes Google the most important search engine to scrape for SEO related companies. 
Although Google does not take legal action against scraping, it uses a range of defensive methods that makes scraping their results a challenging task, even when the scraping tool is realistically spoofing a normal web browser:
Google is using a complex system of request rate limitation which can vary for each language, country, User-Agent as well as depending on the keywords or search parameters. The rate limitation can make it unpredictable when accessing a search engine automated as the behaviour patterns are not known to the outside developer or user.
Network and IP limitations are as well part of the scraping defense systems. Search engines can not easily be tricked by changing to another IP, while using proxies is a very important part in successful scraping. The diversity and abusive history of an IP is important as well.
Offending IPs and offending IP networks can easily be stored in a blacklist database to detect offenders much faster. The fact that most ISPs give dynamic IP addresses to customers requires that such automated bans be only temporary, to not block innocent users.
Behaviour based detection is the most difficult defense system. Search engines serve their pages to millions of users every day, this provides a large amount of behaviour information. A scraping script or bot is not behaving like a real user, aside from having non-typical access times, delays and session times the keywords being harvested might be related to each other or include unusual parameters. Google for example has a very sophisticated behaviour analyzation system, possibly using deep learning software to detect unusual patterns of access. It can detect unusual activity much faster than other search engines. 
HTML markup changes, depending on the methods used to harvest the content of a website even a small change in HTML data can render a scraping tool broken until it is updated.
General changes in detection systems. In the past years search engines have tightened their detection systems nearly month by month making it more and more difficult to reliable scrape as the developers need to experiment and adapt their code regularly. 
When search engine defense thinks an access might be automated the search engine can react differently.
The first layer of defense is a captcha page where the user is prompted to verify they are a real person and not a bot or tool. Solving the captcha will create a cookie that permits access to the search engine again for a while. After about one day the captcha page is removed again.
The second layer of defense is a similar error page but without captcha, in such a case the user is completely blocked from using the search engine until the temporary block is lifted or the user changes their IP.
The third layer of defense is a long-term block of the entire network segment. Google has blocked large network blocks for months. This sort of block is likely triggered by an administrator and only happens if a scraping tool is sending a very high number of requests.
All these forms of detection may also happen to a normal user, especially users sharing the same IP address or network class (IPV4 ranges as well as IPv6 ranges).
Methods of scraping Google, Bing, Yahoo, Petal or Sogou
To scrape a search engine successfully the two major factors are time and amount.
The more keywords a user needs to scrape and the smaller the time for the job the more difficult scraping will be and the more developed a scraping script or tool needs to be.
Scraping scripts need to overcome a few technical challenges:
IP rotation using Proxies (proxies should be unshared and not listed in blacklists)
Proper time management, time between keyword changes, pagination as well as correctly placed delays Effective longterm scraping rates can vary from only 3–5 requests (keywords or pages) per hour up to 100 and more per hour for each IP address / Proxy in use. The quality of IPs, methods of scraping, keywords requested and language/country requested can greatly affect the possible maximum rate.
Correct handling of URL parameters, cookies as well as HTTP headers to emulate a user with a typical browser
HTML DOM parsing (extracting URLs, descriptions, ranking position, sitelinks and other relevant data from the HTML code)
Error handling, automated reaction on captcha or block pages and other unusual responses
Captcha definition explained as mentioned above by
An example of an open source scraping software which makes use of the above mentioned techniques is GoogleScraper.  This framework controls browsers over the DevTools Protocol and makes it hard for Google to detect that the browser is automated.
When developing a scraper for a search engine almost any programming language can be used. Although, depending on performance requirements, some languages will be favorable.
PHP is a commonly used language to write scraping scripts for websites or backend services, since it has powerful capabilities built-in (DOM parsers, libcURL); however, its memory usage is typically 10 times the factor of a similar C/C++ code. Ruby on Rails as well as Python are also frequently used to automated scraping jobs. For highest performance, C++ DOM parsers should be considered.
Additionally, bash scripting can be used together with cURL as a command line tool to scrape a search engine.
Tools and scripts
When developing a search engine scraper there are several existing tools and libraries available that can either be used, extended or just analyzed to learn from.
iMacros – A free browser automation toolkit that can be used for very small volume scraping from within a users browser 
cURL – a command line browser for automation and testing as well as a powerful open source HTTP interaction library available for a large range of programming languages. 
google-search – A Go package to scrape Google. 
SEO Tools Kit – Free Online Tools, Duckduckgo, Baidu, Petal, Sogou) by using proxies (socks4/5, proxy). The tool includes asynchronous networking support and is able to control real browsers to mitigate detection. 
se-scraper – Successor of SEO Tools Kit. Scrape search engines concurrently with different proxies. 
When scraping websites and services the legal part is often a big concern for companies, for web scraping it greatly depends on the country a scraping user/company is from as well as which data or website is being scraped. With many different court rulings all over the world. 
However, when it comes to scraping search engines the situation is different, search engines usually do not list intellectual property as they just repeat or summarize information they scraped from other websites.
The largest public known incident of a search engine being scraped happened in 2011 when Microsoft was caught scraping unknown keywords from Google for their own, rather new Bing service,  but even this incident did not result in a court case.
One possible reason might be that search engines like Google, Petal, Sogou are getting almost all their data by scraping millions of public reachable websites, also without reading and accepting those terms.
Comparison of HTML parsers
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^ Jan Janssen (26 September 2019). “Online Marketing Services van SEO SNEL”. SEO SNEL (in Dutch). Services. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
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^ “A Go package to scrape Google” – via GitHub.
^ “Free online SEO Tools (like Google, Yandex, Bing, Duckduckgo,… ). Including asynchronous networking support. : NikolaiT/SEO Tools Kit”. 15 January 2019 – via GitHub.
^ Tschacher, Nikolai (2020-11-17), NikolaiT/se-scraper, retrieved 2020-11-19
^ “Is Web Scraping Legal? “. Icreon (blog).
^ “Appeals court reverses hacker/troll “weev” conviction and sentence [Updated]”.
^ “Can Scraping Non-Infringing Content Become Copyright Infringement… Because Of How Scrapers Work? “.
^ Singel, Ryan. “Google Catches Bing Copying; Microsoft Says ‘So What? ‘”. Wired.
Scrapy Open source python framework, not dedicated to search engine scraping but regularly used as base and with a large number of users.
Compunect scraping sourcecode – A range of well known open source PHP scraping scripts including a regularly maintained Google Search scraper for scraping advertisements and organic resultpages.
Justone free scraping scripts – Information about Google scraping as well as open source PHP scripts (last updated mid 2016)
rvices source code – Python and PHP open source classes for a 3rd party scraping API. (updated January 2017, free for private use)
PHP Simpledom A widespread open source PHP DOM parser to interpret HTML code into variables.
SerpApi Third party service based in the United States allowing you to scrape search engines legally.
Frequently Asked Questions about is scraping illegal
Is scraping data legal?
It is perfectly legal if you scrape data from websites for public consumption and use it for analysis. However, it is not legal if you scrape confidential information for profit. For example, scraping private contact information without permission, and sell them to a 3rd party for profit is illegal.Aug 16, 2021
Is scraping Google legal?
Although Google does not take legal action against scraping, it uses a range of defensive methods that makes scraping their results a challenging task, even when the scraping tool is realistically spoofing a normal web browser: … Network and IP limitations are as well part of the scraping defense systems.
Is scraping legal 2020?
Copyright Infringement: In most jurisdictions, web scraping is legal, but using copyright data contains certain restrictions. Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA): This law, enacted to prevent computer hackers, prevents fetching data by getting unauthorized access to a page.Apr 6, 2020