Scraping the data barrel

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Everyone thinks they know what data is. But data is a very difficult concept to capture in terms of legal status. Generally, there is no property right in data itself. It is how data is used that is important legally. One way of addressing this challenge is to look at data from the viewpoint of rights of access to that data. For instance, vast amounts of data are to be found on websites by simply accessing and viewing that website. However, increasingly, website users want to do more than simply view that data passively. Now many users look to obtain data from websites for their own use.

The process of obtaining data from websites has been described as data scraping, web scraping, web harvesting, screen scraping and data or report mining. Each of these terms is associated with a similar underlying technical process. For example, Wikipedia describes “data scraping” as “a technique in which a computer program extracts data from human readable output coming from another program”, and “report mining” as “the extraction of data from human readable computer reports”. The common feature is the use of a computer program that enables data to be collected. Such programs are often referred to as “spiders”, “crawlers”, “bots”, or “harvesters”. The advent of “big data” is fuelling such programs. Big data is an IT industry buzz phrase for the analysis of very large sets of data. Healthcare, retail and banking are examples of sectors where there is significant investment in big data…

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