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I am looking at creating a consolidation like service that posts data of the same type* across a network of third-party websites, most of which do not have open, or free APIs.

If you used Selenium or something of the like to take the data from your own system and submit it as normal users would, for free, to a target site, is this illegal?

For none of these services would I be using my own "paid license" to post data on behalf of users who do not have a license. All of these services are free, but I am not sure if you could get into trouble by posting data on behalf of a real user to a third party system.

Additionally, it's worth noting that these would NOT be 'spam' submissions. The data is real, but the way it is posted would not be by the user directly, but instead via a "ghost browser" submission. The data posted is verbatim to that of what a real user intended to post.

If you had the target site's terms for submission on your own site, should that suffice?

  • "If you had the target site's terms for submission on your own site, should that suffice?" What does that mean? You can't dictate the terms of third-party sites on your own site; third party sites dictate their own terms of use. The method of automated submission to third party sites doesn't matter; if submissions are automated, and the target sites forbid automated usage, you open yourself to civil action. If a site doesn't have an API, that doesn't give you license to do anything you want with automation. Read the terms of use of those third party sites. – BlueDogRanch Jul 5 at 21:46
  • @BlueDogRanch what i mean by this, is if a user is to submit data, that ultimately arrives at the target site, they need to craft their submission in compliance to this target site's ToC/ToS. We are presenting to the user the legal requirements for their submission, then ultimately posting the submitted data, on behalf of this user, via a bot to the third party site. – doncarbone Jul 5 at 22:15
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It depends on the will of the target site owners.

A good analogy is a private piece of land (e.g. a park) where the public is allowed on foot but not on any sort of vehicle. Would it be illegal to drive in such a park despite the owner's will? Not initially (because the will is not a law). But the owner can ask you to leave, and if you persist you commit trespassing (which is illegal).

Moreover, if you cause damage to the park by driving a vehicle despite seeing the sign "No vehicles" you could be successfully sued for the damage.

With websites it is pretty much the same. Often they have terms of use which explicitly say along the lines that access by any means other than human being via a web browser is prohibited. If a site doesn't have such terms you could use your technology until asked to stop. If you persist, the site owner could obtain a court injunction to stop you, and if you break that now you break the law. Also, if your technology causes loss to the site (e.g. by overloading) you again could be successfully sued for that loss.

  • Makes sense. Appreciate it. In all actuality I would imagine these target sites would be grateful for the traffic referrals, at which point conversations can be had surrounding authorized/official API access, but it's one of those instances where only if it's perceived as a problem, and are you asked to stop, must you. – doncarbone Jul 6 at 0:53

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