Is Web Scraping Illegal? Depends on What the Meaning of the Word Is
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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9 FREE Web Scrapers That You Cannot Miss in 2021 | Octoparse
How much do you know about web scraping? No worries, this article will brief you on the basics of web scraping, how to access a web scraping tool to get a tool that perfectly matches your needs, and last but not least, present you with a list of web scraping tools for your reference.
Table of Content
Web scraping and how it is used
How to choose a web scraping tool
Three types of web scraping tools
Web Scraping And How It Is Used
Web scraping is a way of gathering data from web pages with a scraping bot, hence the whole process is done in an automated way. The technique allows people to obtain web data at a large scale fast. In the meantime, instruments like Regex (Regular Expression) enable data cleaning during the scraping process, which means people can get well-structured clean data one-stop.
How does web scraping work?
Firstly, a web scraping bot simulates the act of human browsing the website. With the target URL entered, it sends a request to the server and gets information back in the HTML file.
Next, with the HTML source code at hand, the bot is able to reach the node where target data lies and parse the data as it is commanded in the scraping code.
Lastly, (based on how the scraping bot is configured) the cluster of scraped data will be cleaned, put into a structure, and ready for download or transference to your database.
How To Choose A Web Scraping Tool
There are ways to get access to web data. Even though you have narrowed it down to a web scraping tool, tools popped up in the search results with all confusing features still can make a decision hard to reach.
There are a few dimensions you may take into consideration before choosing a web scraping tool:
Device: if you are a Mac or Linux user, you should make sure the tool support your system.
Cloud service: cloud service is important if you want to access your data across devices anytime.
Integration: how you would use the data later on? Integration options enable better automation of the whole process of dealing with data.
Training: if you do not excel at programming, better make sure there are guides and support to help you throughout the data scraping journey.
Pricing: yep, the cost of a tool shall always be taken into consideration and it varies a lot among different venders.
Now you may want to know what web scraping tools to choose from:
Three Types of Scraping Tool
Web Scraper Client
Web Scraping Plugins/Extension
Web-based Scraping Application
There are many free web scraping tools. However, not all web scraping software is for non-programmers. The lists below are the best web scraping tools without coding skills at a low cost. The freeware listed below is easy to pick up and would satisfy most scraping needs with a reasonable amount of data requirement.
Web Scraping Tools Client-based
Octoparse is a robust web scraping tool that also provides web scraping services for business owners and enterprises.
Device: As it can be installed on both Windows and Mac OS, users can scrape data with apple devices.
Data: Web data extraction for social media, e-commerce, marketing, real-estate listing, etc.
– extract data from a complex website that requires login and pagination.
– deal with information that is not showing on the websites by parsing the source code.
Use cases: As a result, you can achieve automatic inventories tracking, price monitoring, and leads generation within your fingertips.
Octoparse offers different options for users with different levels of coding skills.
The Task Template Mode enables non-coding users to turn web pages into some structured data instantly. On average, it only takes about 6. 5 seconds to pull down the data behind one page and allows you to download the data to Excel. Check out what templates are most popular.
The Advanced mode has more flexibility. This allows users to configure and edit the workflow with more options. Advance mode is used for scraping more complex websites with a massive amount of data.
The brand new Auto-detection feature allows you to build a crawler with one click. If you are not satisfied with the auto-generated data fields, you can always customize the scraping task to let it scrape the data for you.
The cloud services enable large data extraction within a short time frame as multiple cloud servers concurrently are running for one task. Besides that, the cloud service will allow you to store and retrieve the data at any time.
Device: The desktop application of Parsehub supports systems such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, or you can use the browser extension to achieve instant scraping.
Pricing: It is not fully free, but you still can set up to five scraping tasks for free. The paid subscription plan allows you to set up at least 20 private projects.
Tutorial: There are plenty of tutorials at Parsehub and you can get more information from the homepage.
is a SaaS web data integration software. It provides a visual environment for end-users to design and customize the workflows for harvesting data. It covers the entire web extraction lifecycle from data extraction to analysis within one platform. And you can easily integrate into other systems as well.
Function: large-scale data scraping, capture photos and PDFs in a feasible format
Integration: integration with data analysis tools
Pricing: the price of the service is only presented through consultation case by case
1. Data Scraper (Chrome)
Data Scraper can scrape data from tables and listing type data from a single web page. Its free plan should satisfy most simple scraping with a light amount of data. The paid plan has more features such as API and many anonymous IP proxies. You can fetch a large volume of data in real-time faster. You can scrape up to 500 pages per month, you need to upgrade to a paid plan.
2. Web scraper
Web scraper has a chrome extension and cloud extension.
For the chrome extension version, you can create a sitemap (plan) on how a website should be navigated and what data should be scrapped.
The cloud extension is can scrape a large volume of data and run multiple scraping tasks concurrently. You can export the data in CSV, or store the data into Couch DB.
3. Scraper (Chrome)
The scraper is another easy-to-use screen web scraper that can easily extract data from an online table, and upload the result to Google Docs.
Just select some text in a table or a list, right-click on the selected text, and choose “Scrape Similar” from the browser menu. Then you will get the data and extract other content by adding new columns using XPath or JQuery. This tool is intended for intermediate to advanced users who know how to write XPath.
4. Outwit hub(Firefox)
Outwit hub is a Firefox extension, and it can be easily downloaded from the Firefox add-ons store. Once installed and activated, you can scrape the content from websites instantly.
Function: It has outstanding “Fast Scrape” features, which quickly scrapes data from a list of URLs that you feed in. Extracting data from sites using Outwit hub doesn’t demand programming skills.
Training: The scraping process is fairly easy to pick up. Users can refer to their guides to get started with web scraping using the tool.
Outwit Hub also offers services of tailor-making scrapers.
1. (formerly known as Cloud scrape)
is intended for advanced users who have proficient programming skills. It has three types of robots for you to create a scraping task – Extractor, Crawler, and Pipes. It provides various tools that allow you to extract the data more precisely. With its modern feature, you will be able to address the details on any website. With no programming skills, you may need to take a while to get used to it before creating a web scraping robot. Check out their homepage to learn more about the knowledge base.
The freeware provides anonymous web proxy servers for web scraping. Extracted data will be hosted on ’s servers for two weeks before being archived, or you can directly export the extracted data to JSON or CSV files. It offers paid services to meet your needs for getting real-time data.
enables you to get real-time data from scraping online sources from all over the world into various, clean formats. You even can scrape information on the dark web. This web scraper allows you to scrape data in many different languages using multiple filters and export scraped data in XML, JSON, and RSS formats.
The freeware offers a free subscription plan for you to make 1000 HTTP requests per month and paid subscription plans to make more HTTP requests per month to suit your web scraping needs.
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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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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 web scraping services
Is web scraping legal?
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. … Big companies use web scrapers for their own gain but also don’t want others to use bots against them.
Is web scraping free?
Data Scraper (Chrome) Data Scraper can scrape data from tables and listing type data from a single web page. Its free plan should satisfy most simple scraping with a light amount of data. The paid plan has more features such as API and many anonymous IP proxies. You can fetch a large volume of data in real-time faster.Aug 3, 2021
Is Google web scraping 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.