Are Spambots Illegal? Software That Violates a Website's Terms of Use

Violating a Website’s Terms of Use

There are a lot of software applications released these days, many of them not written in the United States, which scrape content from sites or otherwise utilize websites in violation of the website’s terms of use. Is this illegal? We’ll discuss that in just a moment.

There are software written by people around the world that will do stuff on websites that the website owners don’t want. Maybe it will scrape the content off the site. Maybe it will post content on the site, like spam or comments. Or maybe it will somehow utilize the site in a way not permitted by the website owner. Is there anything the website owner can do?

The answer is yes. You may think that a website owner can’t control what somebody else does online, but there are a couple key laws that protect website owners.

The first is Breach of Contract. A website’s Terms of Use can expressly prohibit certain activity on the website and if software does that activity, it’s breaching the contract.

The second is Tortious Interference with Contract. When software help somebody interfere with a contract, this software writer is tortiously interfering with the contract. In other words, they’re facilitating the breach of contract so they are liable for it as well.

There may also be Copyright Infrigement considerations if website tools are extracting content from a site, whether it’s image of text, that may be copyright infrigement.

If you have questions about stopping somebody from unlawfully manipulating your website or dealing with your website, contact an attorney who’s experienced in both business law and in-web technology, and they can talk you through your options.