In 2010, software engineer Pete Warden built a web crawler to gather data from Facebook. He collected data from approximately 200 million Facebook users—names, location information, friends, and interests. Of course, Facebook noticed and sent him cease-and-desist letters, which he obeyed. When asked why he complied with the cease and desist, he said: “Big data? Cheap. Lawyers? Not so cheap.”
In this chapter, you’ll look at US laws (and some international ones) that are relevant to web scraping, and learn how to analyze the legality and ethics of a given web scraping situation.
Before you read this section, consider the obvious: I am a software engineer, not a lawyer. Do not interpret anything you read here or in any other chapter of the book as professional legal advice or act on it accordingly. Although I believe I’m able to discuss the legalities and ethics of web scraping knowledgeably, you should consult a lawyer (not a software engineer) before undertaking any legally ambiguous web scraping projects.
The goal of this chapter is to provide you with a framework for being able to understand and discuss various aspects of web scraping legalities, such as intellectual property, unauthorized computer access, and server usage, but should not be a substitute for actual legal advice.
Time for some Intellectual Property 101! There are three basic types of IP: trademarks (indicated by a ™ ...