Is web scraping legal?
Short answer: it depends
The legality of web scraping depends on where you live and who owns the website whose data you are trying to collect. Generally speaking, most countries have laws that protect websites from being scraped without their permission, but there are some exceptions. In Europe, for example, there are laws that allow companies to extract publicly available data as long as they adhere to certain restrictions (e.g., not storing the information for too long). But even if it’s legal in your area, it’s still important to check with the owner of the website before starting any kind of scraping project.
It’s also worth noting that some websites have specific restrictions against web scraping—and will take action against anyone who violates them (including by blocking your IP address). So before you start any kind of project involving web scraping, make sure that you read through all applicable terms and conditions carefully. That way, you can avoid running into any legal issues down the line.
Legal guidelines about web scraping
Generally speaking, as soon as you follow these guidelines, you should avoid any legal issues.
Scrape the target website ethically: do not cause harm or malfunction to it by overloading it with requests
Don’t break the ToS of the website: when creating an account for a website, you’re accepting its ToS. If they don’t allow web scraping, your scraper can’t do the same. The same principle extends to every website where you need to explicitly accept its ToS before entering it.
Don’t harm the business of a website: if the target website is losing money because of your scraping activity, sooner or later you’ll be in trouble.
Manage personal information very carefully: I would completely stay away from personal data but, if you can’t, be sure to be compliant with privacy and website terms.
I know this can be overwhelming and you can have still a lot of questions like “Is it legal to scrape social networks like Facebook or Instagram?” or “Can I scrape any public data I find?” and that’s the reason why I created more articles on those topics.
Final remarks about legal issues of web scraping
In general, web scraping is legal—as long as it complies with applicable laws and doesn't violate any terms and conditions set out by the website owner(s). However, each situation is unique and requires its own analysis; so if you’re thinking about conducting any kind of web scraping project for your business or research purposes, make sure that you check with a lawyer first. That way, you can ensure that everything goes smoothly—and avoid any potential legal issues along the way!
Do you want to know more? Here’s a great video going a bit deeper in detail.
This post is written by Pierluigi Vinciguerra (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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