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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Score One for the Spiders? - Spiders Gone Wild

I imagine you can all see how this has relevance for spiders and those who aggregate information about specific products...or even auctions. So, does this mean that spiders can go out and disregard those software-based warnings from Web sites telling them that they're not welcome? Does this take eBay's winning of an injunction against Bidder's Edge and turn it on its head?

You'd think it would. On the face of it, the two cases look similar. Bidder's Edge, an auction aggregation site, was sending spiders to eBay to collect information on eBay's auctions. BE would then aggregate eBay's auction information along with auction info from many other auction Web sites, making it a "one-stop shop" for that kind of information. eBay wanted them to stop -- and, in fact, was able to legally force them to stop.

That is where the similarities between the two cases end. You see, eBay didn't claim that Bidder's Edge was infringing its copyright -- or, at least, the court didn't grant the injunction based on a claim of copyright infringement. Oh no. eBay claimed that Bidder's Edge was trespassing! Bidder's Edge admitted that it was sending 80,000 to 100,000 queries a day to eBay's Web site, and eBay argued that that was akin to sending 80,000 to 100,000 robots into a bricks-and-mortar business looking for prices and not buying anything. Well, the court was skeptical of that argument, but not of certain other arguments. Specifically, eBay was able to point out that Bidder's Edge's spiders were using up eBay's computer capacity, after eBay had told BE more than once that it was not welcome to use its spiders on eBay's Web site. At that time, it was only using less than two percent of eBay's capacity -- but the principle in this case wasn't the amount of capacity it was using up, but that it was using that capacity after eBay told it not to. A Web site might not actually be real estate in the same way that land is -- but there is no question that computers and servers are property that can be owned. And Bidder's Edge was using eBay's computers in ways that eBay specifically told it that it wasn't allowed to do. What would you do if you told someone not to use your computer in a particular way and they kept doing it? Uh-huh, that's what I thought. In eBay's case, they were granted an injunction against Bidder's Edge in late May 2000.

So what does Nautical Solutions Marketing vs. Boats.com add to the sometimes-controversial issue of spiders? Well, first off, just because something was copied from a Web site -- even by a robot -- doesn't mean that the person or company doing it is committing copyright infringement. Especially if it's essentially factual information. On the other hand, that also doesn't mean that they're not in hot water. If you're a spider wrangler, make sure your spiders check to see whether they're welcome on the Web sites they visit -- and don't try to force the issue. It's a big Web out there; there's plenty of cyberspace for spiders to crawl without looking for trouble. 

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