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Is it legal to web scrape records from the BBB, and then use those on records within your website? What about from a competitor?

Denver, CO |
Filed under: Internet law

I am working on a project where we are trying to consolidate information for a particular niche. We would like to scrape data from the BBB as well as other websites. In most cases, we are just collecting the Name, Address and Phone of a business. Is it legal to scrape this information and post it on your own website?

In addition, we are considering scraping the same information (maybe even a bit more) from a competitor. I am guessing scraping contact information from the BBB probably won't get you in much trouble. What about the second example - scraping content from a competitor?

This is not the industry that we are considering operating in, but an example might be Angie's List.

Attorney Answers 4


This will really depend. I don't thing Angie's List is the best example because you need a subscription just to get into Angie's List if I am not mistaken.

Keep in mind that every site you go to will have a terms and conditions of service that may strictly prohibit this kind of activity. Violating those terms is not a crime of course but it may expose you to a civil action (see: How that plays out will depend on which court you are in.

It would probably be helpful to have a lawyer conduct a proper analysis, but frankly it may come down to each states particular laws of trespass on chattel. I do not believe there is an easy answer to this kind of query, but perhaps one of my colleagues will have a better understanding of the subject.

Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.

Best regards,
Natoli-Lapin, LLC
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The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the areas of business law and intellectual property to entrepreneurs, small-to-medium size businesses, independent inventors and artists across the nation and abroad. 866-871-8655 DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.

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Scraping the content of a website is very, very often unlawful as, at least, (1) trespass to chattels, (2) breach of contract, (3) copyright infringement, (4) unfair competition and/or (5) violation of the federal Compuer Fraud and Abuse Act [which is a CRIMINAL violation -- see 18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2), (C)]. Before accessing any site for the purpose of copying the material publishing on that site you must discuss that conduct with your own intellectual property attorney. You should also read a recent court decision that addresses this matter and explains the law [visit the link below].

The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.

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Copyright law generally does not protect basic factual information, since as names, phone numbers and addresses. But be careful. Copyright law might protect the manner in which this factual information is organized and presented. You can "scrape" facts from competitors, but only the facts and not the manner in which the facts are presented. For example, the statistics in baseball box scores are not protected by copyright, but different news organizations have created different, original forms of box scores, and those forms and shapes of box scores are protected by copyright law even if the batting averages shown are not.

What you cannot do, however, is scrape original content, such as postings by consumers on Angie's List, Craigslist, or any other such interactive site. The postings on Craigslist are protected by copyright law, and the Craigslist format and software is protected by copyright law.

The business you are proposing to go into is fraught with potential intellectual property law problems. This is a major undertaking, and your legal foundation must be reviewed and established by experienced IP counsel. This web-site is no substitute for retaining IP counsel to assist you in laying the proper legal foundation.

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As my colleagues pointed out, all published materials are protected by IP laws. However, ideas and natural stuff are free for all. You need to distinguish between protected and free materials, when you scrape anything from anywhere.

This is not a legal advice or solicitation, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with an attorney. I work for Cardinal Risk Mangement and Cardinal Intellectual Property, IP service companies, but not law firms. I also am the president of Vepachedu Educational Foundation Inc., which is a non profit educational foundation. I also write cultural and scientific compliations for the foundation. I also teach at Northwestern university as a guest lecturer. I also provide some pro-bono guidance on immigration and other issues through Indian American Bar Association. I also have a contract with Cardinal Law Group, a law firm, for IP projects. All this information is on my profile at Avvo and also at Linkedin. Any views/opinions expressed in any context are my personal views in individual capacity only, and do not represent the views and opinions of any firm, client, or anyone else, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them in any way.

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