Acts that violate Facebook terms of use may be copyright infringement

The use of an automated system to obtain personal data about Facebook members not only violates Facebook’s terms of use;  it also may constitute copyright infringement, according to a recent decision from the US District Court for the Northern District of California. 

In Facebook, Inc. v. Power Ventures, Inc. (N.D. Cal. 5/11/09), the defendant operated Power.com, a website that allows users to aggregate their data from various social networking sites into one location.  When a user provides Power.com its usernames and passwords for the various sites, Power.com would then access and “scrape” the account data so that the user could view the data culled from Facebook, other social networking sites, and email in one location on Power.com.

Facebook’s Terms of Use state:

You will not collect users’ information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission.

Facebook does allow third party websites to integrate with Facebook and collect data from Facebook accounts if the third party website uses the “Facebook Connect” application.  Power.com did not use the Facebook Connect application, so Facebook sued, asserting that Power.com’s activity violated both the Terms of Use and U.S. copyright law.

On the issue of copyright, the court stated that when Power.com made copies of a user’s profile page, it may have infringed Facebook’s copyright in the content.  So, the court denied Facebook’s request for a motion to dismiss on that issue.   The court also found that Power.com’s actions may have circumvented technical measures imposed by Facebook to block access to the content, so it also denied Facbook’s motion to dismiss on a Digital Millennium Copyright Act claim.

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