Legality of bookstore scrapers

bsgreenb edited this page Mar 6, 2013 · 6 revisions

Important disclaimer: Do not take this as legal advice. This is just my impression of the legal issues based on my own research and experience. I am not a lawyer. I am not responsible for any issues you run into by following what's said here or by using the scrapers.

  • Class-book data is a set of facts, similar to a phonebook. Therefore the bookstores can't claim copyright on a creative work. However, scrapers have been prosecuted for scraping facts on the basis of "tresspass by chatell" law.

  • For the following reasons, it is likely that scraping of bookstore data will not/cannot be successfully prosecuted under "tresspass by chatell" law:

    1. The federal government has ruled that class-book data must be made available to all students and bookstores under the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). The intent of this act was, among other things, to lower the cost of textbooks by making purchasing information like ISBN's necessary. This is probably the strongest argument for the legality of scraping.
    2. In most cases, class-book data is a public record in the sense of being available by Freedom of Information Requests. In other words, the same data would be available through a different, but less convenient method. It would be strange for stores to claim a profit loss due to your scraping when you could have gotten the same data anyways.
    3. The most recent "tresspass to chatell" cases have ruled that scrapers must pay for lost server time or server damages. See Intel v. Hamidi (2003), Omega World Travel v. Mummagraphics, Inc, and CompuServe Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc. So long as your scraping doesn't damage or slow down their servers, it is unlikely that they could extract any reparations in court.
    4. Many sites lack even a terms of service prohibiting scraping. This means they have no legal standing in challenging a scraper. See
    5. Several sites similar to TextYard have been openly scraping class-book data without any repercussions to date.
  • Suggested reading:

  • When I first started TextYard I was very afraid of breaking the law. In retrospect, I should have taken the risk right away. That is my two cents. Contact me if you want to discuss the legal issues in more depth (, but know that I am no expert.