When you see the word screen scraping, you would imagine it to mean de-icing the car on a winter morning. But actually, screen scraping is the process of automatically copying data from a website.
Screen scraping is a controversial topic – some call it theft whilst others call it gathering information. Essentially scrapers will target their competitor’s website, taking information from it that they can use to their advantage. Information such as bookmakers odds, currency exchange rates, online grocery shopping prices or retail sale prices are all known to be copied by scrapers, and the information is then used by competitors. Time-sensitive information is most likely to be scraped. Competitors use the data to beat prices and often draw customers away from their competitor.
With the rise in price comparison websites, there has been a rise in screen scraping. With prices changing constantly and businesses fighting to give their clients the best deal, scraping has become a real issue.
Whilst it is good to know what the competition is doing, scraping can be seen in a bad light. It is important to get a balance between letting your clients know your price and keeping it away from the competitor.
The internet is full of blogs that discuss whether scraping is ethical. Copying information from a website is a lot more complex than from a word document and there are now many computer programmes available. But is it right to scrape, and how can you protect your business from it?
If someone is scraping your website, they can slow your server and use a bigger allowance of bandwidth – meaning that your genuine visitors aren’t getting the best experience on your website. To combat this issue businesses may impellent new security measures, but this is costly and many businesses simply don’t have the money to do this. So essentially you are losing money from clients and security costs.
However a recent court case between Ryanair and PR Aviation has brought the issue of screen scraping to business owners attention, and action is being taken. The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) preliminary ruled in January 2015 that websites can now use contractual restrictions to prohibit businesses scraping information from competitor’s websites.
Understandably when you are running a small business, you don’t have the funds to fight big battles, like Ryan Air and Ladbrokes do. But it is not just the big companies that have their websites scraped – small businesses do too. If you are in competition with another business who has the ability to screen scrape then it is most likely that they will do it to you too. Whilst it is not illegal, if a competitor holds information about your products and services then they can use it for their own gain – which could lead to you losing custom and money.
So what does all the mean for a small business? The CEJU ruling means that the business can have more control over who uses their products and services information. The court ruled that website owners can prohibit screen scraping of their unprotected data via their terms and conditions.
Some of the information posted on your website may not be protected by intellectual property rights or the Database Directive – an official instruction that provides protection in relation to databases. The ruling means that if the information is not covered under this, then it can be covered by your terms and conditions.
Industry experts have stated that if a competitor was to scrape your website and it was in your terms and conditions that you limit/prohibit this activity, the ts and cs could offer protection and may strengthen a case of breach of contract. To do this it has been suggested that terms and conditions would have to be easily accessible.
Industry experts have recommended that businesses should consider amending their terms and conditions to include a screen scraping clause. It has also been suggested that should all businesses begin to protect themselves against screen scraping, it would help to discourage the activity.
Whilst having a set of terms and conditions that cover the issue of screen scraping might not stop the issue completely if you were forced to take legal action the contract would help you. With laws changing and new rulings being passed it is always important to stay up to date with the law. Adapting a set of terms and conditions to reflect new changes will help to sustain and grow your business.
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