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Have you ever wondered if web scraping is legal? You may have thought about cases like borrowing without asking permission and are afraid to be found guilty. It is common knowledge that plagiarism is a serious crime and everyone is encouraged to avoid it. You may continue to probe by asking: What if the source is an open popular site like Wikipedia? Where do boundary lines fall? Can web scraping ever be safe?

Legal issues arising from data mining have become a debate in courts these days. Online research and duplication have threatened the security of data and information of many websites. It appears that intellectual property is something very seriously at stake because of the ease and freedom of online access. Indeed anything can happen in this age of high technology. To effectively shy away from any legal disputes, the practical and proven tips to cope are: acknowledge the sources; paraphrase and summarize the content gleaned from websites; and play safe by using generalizations.

Acknowledge sources

Even if duplication of facts is said to be allowable, the line between legal and illegal is almost microscopic especially with regard to data gathered online.  Several cases are being deliberated in courts because of intentionally copying without authorization; thus, the best defense against legal charges and lawsuits is to acknowledge the sources.

Legal issues such as: screen-scraping is considered Illegal because it is associated with computer abuse resulting in damage and loss of information due to unauthorized access. There are also issues of interference with business relations, trespass, and harmful access by computer. In addition, web scraping is said to constitute in legal terms as misappropriation and unjust enrichment. There are also issues on breach of the website’s user agreement and copyright protection.

The old adage about seeking permission and acknowledging the sources is still a wise option today not only in printed materials. It is but right and proper to cite the source because aside from legalities it can make your data more reliable and truthful.

Paraphrase and summarize content

Caution in data mining should really be applied in everything. Another way of keeping away from legal cases is to state the borrowed idea in your own words. This is done to prevent duplication and plagiarism. However, this is often partnered with citing the sources. Since there are no absolutes in anything on the planet earth, no company or institution can claim full rights over knowledge and information except the most specific ones such as exact figures its data and profile. In this case, stating the concepts in your own words can give you a reason to be free from possible accusations on theft and copyright law violation.

The trend these days is for some websites that resort to rewriting and spinning; but the downside is that the outcome becomes unnatural and less effective. It is then advised that rewriting and spinning must be used judiciously.
Play safe, generalize

When you are not sure of the source of your material due to lack of details, you can always make general statements and phrases such as: “according to studies…”; “research shows…”; “the trend is…”, and similar expressions. In this way, you are not claiming anything as your own property nor are you copying directly. This may sound “gray” or weak but it is equally effective.

On the other hand, it is good to know that courts are taking these matters seriously since you will never be happy if your ideas are quoted and stolen by others especially when they are getting profits from it. In addition, the degree of the access to certain materials can undesirably affect the site owner’s structure.

Moreover, in order to be sate, reviewing the terms of use and other terms or notices displayed on or made available through the website; thus, caution in data mining must be observed. In this way, both the source and the data miner are protected and informed.

Like anything else in this world, every new idea or concept can be used, misused and abused. Every individual and institution then must be responsible and accountable for whatever material extracted from the web that he/she/it has used for his/her /its own benefit. It cannot also be denied that nothing on earth is absolutely free; thus, the price of web scraping is to give credit to whom it is due.

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