How Far Can Terms of Service Go for Restricting Data Access?
January 11, 2013 6:38 AM Subscribe
Law portals & content portals use their Terms of Service to restrict access to data beyond what they can restrict by means of copyright. What are the limits to this practice, and the history of enforcement?
posted by tmcw to Law & Government (10 answers total)
So, I'm interested in freeing my city's code, (which is public domain) from the cruddy content portals it's currently stored in - previously westlaw, now lexis. Since westlaw and lexis actually do the editing on the document - they integrate bills and resolutions into the main text - their copy, on cruddy websites and expensive books - is the only copy. Other states (well, real states) usually have the money to do this themselves, but DC doesn't.
I'll spare the explanation of why it's useful to liberate this from westlaw/lexis, I assume people have used those sites and gotten 'the experience'.
And so, this puts me in a sort of bind: it's public domain data, but lexis and westlaw have terms and conditions specifically against the kind of web scraping that's necessary to produce a copy of this data. I'm not clear on what exactly companies can put in their terms of service - for instance, many have stipulations on copying, which you would think is covered by license law rather than terms.
Also worrying is the case against Aaron Schwartz, which frames web scraping in general as fraud under USC 1030 (though aggravated by Aaron's kind of ridiculous dodging-cameras and working-sneakily tactics).
To make matters even more complex, the specific document changes on a two-week basis, so repeated scraping or some kind of direct transfer would be necessary to keep a better copy up-to-date.
What are the options here, legally? I'm interested in making free data 'actually free' without being charged with a felony.