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Is Web Scraping Legal?

June 29, 2020Category : Blog
Is Web Scraping Legal?

Last Updated on by Tarun

Introduction To The Legalities Of Web Scraping:

This is one of the hottest questions amongst people in the field of data analytics and Big data. Before diving deeper into this, let us understand the basics. What are web scraping and web crawling?

Web Scraping

Web Scraping:

To put it simply, Manually copying data from the websites for various analyses is a very tedious, time-consuming, and inefficient process, which is why we automate this process using an intelligent script that can help us extract data from different web pages of different websites methodically and periodically. Web scraping is the process of extracting large amounts of information/content from a website or a set of websites and saved into local servers for various analyses. This data is saved in a database table or a local file system according to the structure of the data extracted.  To understand more, click on the following blue words – the automated scrapers and custom scraping.

Web Scraping

Web Crawling:

Web Crawling is the process of indexing information/data from the page using bots or crawlers. Search engines like Google, Bing, etc usually use these bots or crawlers to index all the websites and organizes them into categories. To understand more about web crawling, click on the following blue words – Web Crawling.

Web Crawling

Simple Summary:

Web Scraping 

Web Crawling

Extracting data from various online sources. Downloading and indexing pages of the websites
Deduplication is not necessary all the time Dedup is necessary all the time
Can be of an any scale Mostly Large scale

The Technicalities Of Web Scraping:

Now that we understand the basics, Lets us get into the question, Is web scraping legal?

Technically, the answer is yes. Unless the websites are abused unethically. As long as we abide by the rules set by the webmasters of the websites, and respect the terms of the websites. To do so, scrapers and crawlers have to follow the following rules.

1. Respect The robots.txt:

The Robots.txt file is a document that has a set of rules that defines how bots can interact with the websites. While scraping, we should always check this Robots.txt file of the website we are about to scrape. It is wrong to go against the rules mentioned in the Robots.txt file. It can lead to lawsuits and penalties. To put it in a simpler context, the data presented on the website belongs to the owner of that site. Copying or downloading the data without permission from the owner is technically wrong and illegal.


2. Do Not Hit The Websites Too Frequently:

The webmaster and owners of the website take too much time to maintain the performance of their website. Hitting up the website too frequently will hinder the performance of their website as the bots add load to the server of the website. The websites may end up falling into downtime if the load exceeds a certain point or become too high. This completely degrades the user experience of the website. Setting a reasonable amount of hits to a website to not downgrade the performance and also get the data that we require would be the best way to scrape.

Web Crawling

3. It Is Better If You Scrape Data During Off-Peak Hours:

As discussed above, hitting the website reduces the performance of the website server. It is better to choose the time to scrape the website at their off-peak hours so that the load on the website induced by the bots won’t affect the user experience for too many people. This way, the webmasters won’t ban the bots.

Web Crawling

4. Responsible Use Of The Scraped Data:

We need to use the data scraped from the website more responsibly. Publishing the data not abiding by the rules/policies of the website might lead to severe consequences. Using them for analyses or other ethical purposes is alright. But we have to refrain from using the data in an irresponsible or unethical way.

Web Crawling

The Answer:

It is legal to scrape data, but terms and conditions applied.

The US Court of Appeals denied LinkedIn’s request to prevent an analytics company called HiQ from scraping its data. In short, it is translated to the fact that it is fair to crawl data that is publically available and not copyrighted. But this decision also says that the scraped data, even though publically cannot be used for unlimited commercial purposes.

For instance, it is okay to scrape data about youtube titles or comments of a certain channel or a certain topic, but it is not ethical or legal to repost or repurpose the video content from the channels or topics. It is also illegal to scrape data that requires authentication to access it. For instance, it is okay to scrape publicly posted data on LinkedIn, but it is illegal to scrape user information of the profiles which require authentication. Even though if the data is available publicly, We cannot scrape data to which the owner/ webmasters of the site owns intellectual property rights.

In Russia, it is common for almost all the websites to block the web scrapers and crawl bots from accessing their information with strict rules, even if the owner or webmaster doesn’t own any intellectual property rights to it. At PromptCloud, we always follow all the rules set by the robots.txt of the websites that we scrape data from, for our clients.

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