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Re^5: [OT] Ethical and Legal Screen Scraping (and courtesy)

by Tanktalus (Canon)
on Jul 26, 2005 at 01:54 UTC ( #478045=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to Re^4: [OT] Ethical and Legal Screen Scraping (and courtesy)
in thread [OT] Ethical and Legal Screen Scraping

My "flip" comment on relativist ethics was, I think, completely misunderstood because you seem to have a very large sore spot surrounding the issue. The point is that if you have "relative" ethics (everyone is entitled to their own ethics and are not more or less "good" than the ethics of others), there is no common measuring stick that you and I can both apply to the situation at hand. Since we are even having a common discussion, I have to assume absolutist ethics (one thing may be considered "more ethical" than another, regardless of who does it - this doesn't mean that we necessarily agree on what is more ethical than something else, just the concept that there is such a measuring stick), otherwise there is no discussion. I merely pointed out this assumption because if you wanted to disagree on which framework to surround the discussion, I would show that I've actually thought about the differences and we could have a frank, but brief, discussion on that point.

I do not believe I have mischaracterised ethical relativism in any way. I pointed out the one requirement is that your belief is "sincere" (i.e., you're not just making it up to suit the situation). Of course, as with the rest of relativistic philosophy, the definition of "sincere" is still a bit blury, thus the quotes.

Back to the question at hand. You continue your misunderstanding by questioning my "courtesy" example with an example which I have explicitly taken care of with the last sentence in the post you are replying to. If that machine is a public webserver hosted on someone's personal machine, I would argue that this is the scenario where you "need to take into account whether the site owners are expecting that type of traffic (e.g., CNN) or not (e.g., PerlMonks ;-})."

As to the website owner who decides to block you from access that you're paying for. I want to point out that I treated the three questions, legal, ethical, and courtesy, independantly. Just because something may be ethical doesn't mean it's legal, or vice versa. Just because something may be done out of courtesy does not mean that ethics demands it, nor that the law does. So I may believe it's ethical to scrape the website for the data you've paid for, but the legal contract may say otherwise. And that's completely valid description of reality (whether or not I agree that the contract is fair, i.e., ethical).

Service providers provide their service under certain conditions which they are legally entitled to enforce. However, if what they are blocking would fall under "fair use" style common law, they may find their customers leaving for providers who provide more lenient access.

Google gets away with what they're doing by having a free registration system for API access where they can ensure a quality of service to everyone simultaneously. It seems eminently fair, and far-sighted, to me. However, if CNN blocked me from minor amounts of scraping (where I define minor to be in the "ethical" example above), I would simply find another news provider. Say CBC.ca or news.yahoo.com or maybe something on Google. The choice to serve is equal to the choice to find a new provider of service ;-)

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