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In an Eagerly Anticipated Decision, the Ninth Circuit Sides With Web Scrapers

Wednesday, September 25, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sandy Thomas
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For years, companies seeking to block web scrapers from collecting the information on their website would invoke the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a U.S. law that criminalizes accessing a computer “without authorization.” But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has now ruled that merely instructing scrapers that they are not welcome on a public website, either through a restrictive terms of use or a cease-and-desist letter, is probably not enough to render their access “unauthorized” under the CFAA. This decision is encouraging news for the many hedge funds, academic researchers and other data aggregators that use software bots to compile information online.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision arose from a dispute between LinkedIn and a company called hiQ Labs. hiQ Labs is a data analytics company that scrapes publicly accessible LinkedIn user profiles and analyzes that information for its customers, either by summarizing their workforce’s skill set or identifying those employees most likely to leave.

LinkedIn.com has a user agreement that forbids scraping. In 2017, LinkedIn sent hiQ a cease-and-desist letter demanding that hiQ stop copying data from the site. Claiming the survival of its business was under threat, hiQ filed suit in the District Court for the Northern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment that its conduct was lawful and a temporary restraining order preventing LinkedIn from blocking its access.

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