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Robots above the law?

The legalities of robots and forms

11:31 pm on Apr 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Is anyone aware of what body of law there is about web bots? I haven't found anything being teh old AuctionWatch case where they were scraping eBay against their terms and conditions.

I know it's not commonly done, but is there any law against a bot submitting a web form? Is the individual who launched the bot bound by terms and conditions if the bot clicked "yes" to agree with them?


2:52 pm on Apr 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

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In legalese I think you could compare this to a blind person ignoring a "Keep Off The Grass" sign - not good for the grass but probably your own fault for making it possible...
6:03 pm on Apr 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Consult a laywer before believing anything I say, to be safe. I am not a lawyer.

This will depend on the value of what is taken, among other things. Such behavior falls under "trespass to chattles" which is traditional law about trespassing, and is applied to internet cases as well. if you caused the bot to traspass, and it qualifies as trespass to chattles, you can get into trouble.

Also, be careful about the published terms of use of the website. If it says you are not to automagically visit, then they can make a case against you. Whether or not making a case against you is worthwhile is dependent on all the others things I didn't mention (does it enable you to unfairly compete, does it compromise their position in their market, does it incur real costs to them, etc.....)

If some techie says "if they didn't bann it in robots.txt then it's ok" ignore that... it's nonsense. Society is not technical, and the law doesn't yet require publishers to be technically competent. The laws are still the same old trespass laws, re-argued in modern court.

A university I know spent $30,000 over 3 days on security consultants in response to a network breech. Find it, stop it, tell us how it got in, close the hole, help use make a case to prosecute. All the kid did was access via a stolen password, and start a job that consumed so many server resources the univeristy network came to a crawl. In the end the Univeristy calculated costs into the mega millions... lost research time, staff time, down time, etc etc etc... and used that as leverage in their legal proceedings.


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