I was wondering whether Facebook's TOS on automated data collection would actually be legally feasible.

As far as I am concerned there is a universal right of quotation. Of course that will vary from the implementing country, but here in Germany this law is pretty strong, we are even allowed to quote entire pages, songs or pictures.

Does it matter whether I quote in an automated way? Suppose I visit Facebook once a day to observe a time change on the social network (e.g. a community page). Every day, I would then republish this information, explicitly marking it as a quotation, and referencing it back to Facebook. The regulation suggests that for scientific purposes the quotation right can practically be expanded indefinitely.

I cannot see how Facebook could infringe with the universal right of quotation, which in this case weighs much more than their TOS. Technically speaking, there is no difference in me using a browser to visit their website, or me using a script that uses a browser to visit their website.

  • Your presumption that a "right of quotation" exists is flimsy enough, but to call it "universal" makes the position untenable, and in the stark absence of a law making such contracts invalid, as 6726 explains, this is absolutely standard contract law. – Nij Sep 16 '18 at 19:42
  • Content on a website would be copyrighted, so (aside from US fair use and such things) you would need permission to quote. The terms can contain permissions, but aside from that you have no right to copy. – David Thornley Sep 17 '18 at 19:47
  • @DavidThornley fair use is quite much what I was referring here – Fohlen Sep 18 '18 at 14:50

Quoting content may or may not constitute copyright infringement, depending on the various factors that go into the fair use defense. Short quotes which are made for the purpose of discussion, research and commentary and not for copy would be squarely in the domain of "fair use" under US law. That means that the copyright owner would not succeed in suing you for quoting them: under the statutory mechanism for recognizing his right to his intellectual product, there is a limit on how much control he can exert over your behavior (since the two of you have not worked out some kind of agreement -- copyright law creates rights even when there is no contract).

As for Facebook, you have a contract with them, embodied in the terms of service. You have been given permission to access material that they host (permission is required, under copyright law), and their permission is conditional. It says "you may access stuff on our platform only as long as you do X": if that includes a clause "don't be nasty", then that limits your right to speak freely and be as nasty as you'd like. If it says "don't quote even a little", that means you cannot quote even a little, even when you would have the statutory right to quote a little (or, to be nasty).

Fair use would mean that you can't be sued for copyright infringement of the stuff that you quoted a little of. You can, however, be expelled from Facebook. You probably cannot be sued for "accessing Facebook without permission". There is a federal law against unauthorized access of computer networks, and there was a failed attempt to construe violation of a TOS as "unauthorized access" – it isn't. But accessing Facebook necessarily involves copying (that's how computers work), and there is no "fair use" defense whereby everybody has a fair use right to access Facebook. Theoretically you could be sued for copyright infringement, for accessing Facebook's intellectual property without permission. Also, Facebook can rescind your permission to access their content (see this case), and once you have been banned, it is a crime to further access their network.

This assumes that there is no overriding limit on contracts that would nullify a no-quoting condition. There is no such limit on contracts in the US, so such a contract would be enforceable. There is also nothing illegal (unenforceable) about a TOS which prohibits automated methods of access.

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