from the please-don't-do-this dept
Now LinkedIn is doing the same thing, suing a bunch of anonymous users for scraping public information from LinkedIn. This is not the first time the company has done this. A few years ago, the company (using the exact same lawyers) filed a very similar lawsuit, eventually figuring out that the scraping was done by a wannabe competitor, HiringSolved, which pretty quickly settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay $40,000 and erase all the data it collected.
The latest lawsuit appears to be more of the same, claiming that the scraping violates both the CFAA and the DMCA:
During periods of time since December 2015, and to this day, unknown persons and/or entities employing various automated software programs (often referred to as “bots”) have extracted and copied data from many LinkedIn pages. To access this information on LinkedIn’s site, the Doe Defendants circumvented several technical barriers employed by LinkedIn that prevent mass automated scraping, and have knowingly and intentionally violated various access and use restrictions in LinkedIn’s User Agreement, which they agreed to abide by in registering LinkedIn member accounts. In so doing, they have violated an array of federal and state laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030, et seq. (the “CFAA”), California Penal Code §§ 502 et seq., and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 1201 et seq. (the “DMCA”), and have engaged in unlawful acts of breach of contract, misappropriation, and trespass.This is bullshit. Courts have directly held that violating a terms of service does not equate to a CFAA violation for "unauthorized access" or "exceeding authorized access." Here, it appears that LinkedIn is hoping that the combination of claiming a terms of service violation with attempts to get around technological protection measures makes it a CFAA violation.
I completely understand that LinkedIn may not like the fact that people are scraping its data, and that they've found ways around LinkedIn's attempts to block such scraping via technological means, but it's a dangerous slippery slope when a company is claiming that a terms of service violation violated the CFAA -- and that getting around simple blocks becomes a DMCA 1201 anti-circumvention violation. Both of these are problematic: saying that violating the terms of service violates the CFAA is a stretch and saying that violating the DMCA by getting around protection technology -- even if not for the purpose of infringing on copyrights -- is a problem.
Of course, this lawsuit, like the last one, is probably really designed to just sniff out who's running the bots, and to push them into a settlement where they'll stop doing so.
Still, this lawsuit seems particularly ridiculous coming just weeks after LinkedIn's founder and chairman, Reid Hoffman, funded a $250,000 disobedience award at MIT's Media Lab. The point of that award is to encourage people to engage in disobedience to change society in a positive way -- which is something that people often use scraping for. And yet, here his company is engaging in a legal battle that will make that kind of scraping much more risky. I know and like Hoffman, who is quite a smart, thoughtful and principled guy. And I have no idea if he even knew this lawsuit was going to be filed. But I think it sends the wrong message when he's encouraging useful hacking on the one hand, while his company (which, yes, was just sold to Microsoft) is suing people for doing the very same thing of hacking on the other hand.