Recent trends reveal the search by companies for a legal hook to prevent the unauthorized copying of information posted on websites. Especially troublesome to those who struggle against this unwanted copying of website information are software robots, small programs that automatically and rapidly search, copy, and retrieve information from websites. In the center of this controversy are metasites, websites that display prices for a variety of vendors. Metasites function by implementing shopbots, which extract pricing data from other vendors’ websites. Technological mechanisms have proved unsuccessful in blocking shopbots, and in response, websites have asserted a variety of legal claims. While recent cases illustrate the use of the trespass to chattels doctrine to block searches by data robots, the applicability of this common law doctrine remains uncertain. However, dicta in two recent trespass to chattels cases suggest that contract law may provide a less demanding legal method of preventing the search of websites by data robots. Specifically, through the use of clickwrap agreements, websites could potentially prevent the extraction of data by robots. If blocking collection of pricing data is as simple as posting an online contract, the question arises whether this end result is desirable and legally viable. According to this article, robot restriction contracts are legally enforceable and economically beneficial. At the same time, however, public policy encourages development of a technical standard serving as a fair use exception to such contracts.
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