Data Scraping, Now Common, Breeds Legal Questions

Companies have many options for protecting data from being mined, if they choose

Data scraping is a growing practice that forms the backbone of some online businesses and is a competitive threat to others. But the legal boundaries regarding what companies can do with data they collect from others are complicated, and recent court cases give online companies plenty to think about.

Also known as screen scraping, data scraping is the practice of copying swaths of online information using software or bots. A company might collect and aggregate the data — or hire a third party to do so — for various purposes, such as performing market research or filtering out ideal candidates when hiring for a position. Some websites’ business models rely almost entirely on data scraping, such as those that aggregate airfares or real estate listings.

But large website owners have pushed back against data scrapers in recent years, with Craigslist being one of the most successful and aggressive litigants. The classified ad website has issued cease-and-desist letters to other websites and companies that post data scraped from its posts, suing several for breach of contract as well as violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and other statutes.

In April, Craigslist obtained a $60.5 million judgment against RadPad, which allegedly used cribbed real es-tate listings from the site as well as its users’ contact information and then sent Craigslist users spam emails in-viting them to use RadPad. The judgment included damages for violations of an anti-spam email law, copyright infringement and breach of contract

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the September 4, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.