On January 23, 2024, a California district court released its opinion in a closely-watched scraping dispute between the social media platform Meta and data provider Bright Data Ltd. (“Bright Data”) over Bright Data’s alleged scraping of publicly-available data from Facebook and Instagram for use in data products sold to third

In today’s digital age, the question isn’t whether there is open source software being used in a company’s products, but how it is being used and what license governs its use. Open source is ubiquitous.  Despite its widespread use over the past decade, the provisions of open source licenses have been interpreted by only a handful of U.S. and foreign courts.  Open source-related disputes do not usually reach court as open source advocacy groups that enforce open source license provisions often work out a resolution between the parties without litigation.

However, one recent open source dispute has reached the courthouse. As discussed below, a new case filed in California state court could test the enforcement of one of the most common family of open source licenses, the GNU General Public Licenses or “GPL.” If the plaintiff is successful, the case could have the effect of expanding enforcement of GPL licenses under the rubric of consumer protection and allow a broad range of parties to bring claims under the GPL as third party beneficiaries of those licenses.

Last week, the Software Freedom Conservancy, Inc. (“SFC”) filed a complaint against smart-TV manufacturer Vizio, Inc. (“Vizio”) alleging a failure to comply with the GNU General Public License Version 2 (“GPLv2”) and GNU Lesser General Public License Version 2.1 (“LGPL v2.1”) (collectively, the “GPL Licenses”).  SFC alleges that, over the last four years, Vizio distributed smart TVs that included executable versions of Vizio’s “SmartCast code.  The SmartCast code, it alleged,  contained modifications to the Linux kernel and other code obtained by Vizio pursuant to the GPL Licenses.  SFC asserts that Vizio did not release the corresponding modified source code (as enhanced, modified or otherwise altered by Vizio) or accompany their smart TVs with a written offer to supply such code upon demand, as is required under the GPL Licenses. (Software Freedom Conservancy, Inc. v. Vizio, Inc., No. 30-2021-01226723 (Cal. Super. Orange Cty Filed Oct. 19, 2021)).

UPDATE: On December 23, 2021, the parties reached a settlement, as Southwest filed an unopposed motion for entry of final judgment and a permanent injunction containing the same restrictions as the temporary injunction issued in September. Under the proposed permanent injunction, Kiwi would be barred from scraping flight and fare information from Southwest’s site, publishing any Southwest flight or fare information on kiwi’s site or app (or selling any Southwest flights), or otherwise using Southwest’s site for any commercial purpose or in a manner that violates Southwest’s site terms.

UPDATE: On November 1, 2021, the parties filed a Joint Notice of Settlement indicating that they have reached a settlement agreement in principle.  The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

UPDATE: On October 28, 2021, the defendant Kiwi.com, Inc. filed a notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit seeking review of the district court’s ruling granting Southwest Airlines Co.’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

On September 30, 2021, a Texas district court granted Southwest Airline Co.’s (“Southwest”) request for a preliminary injunction against online travel site Kiwi.com, Inc. (“Kiwi”), barring Kiwi from, among other things, scraping fare data from Southwest’s website and committing other acts that violate Southwest’s terms. (Southwest Airlines Co. v. Kiwi.com, Inc., No. 21-00098 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 30, 2021)). Southwest is no stranger in seeking and, in most cases, obtaining injunctive relief against businesses that have harvested its fare data without authorization – ranging as far back as the 2000s (See e.g., Southwest Airlines Co. v. BoardFirstLLC, No. 06-0891 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 12, 2007) (a case cited in the current court opinion)), and as recently as two years ago, when we wrote about a 2019 settlement Southwest entered into with an online entity that scraped Southwest’s site and had offered a fare notification service, all contrary to Southwest’s terms.

In this case, the Texas court found that Southwest had established a likelihood of success on the merits of its breach of contract claim. Rejecting Kiwi’s arguments that it did not assent to Southwest’s terms, the court found that Kiwi had knowledge of and assented to the terms in multiple ways, including by agreeing to the terms when purchasing tickets on Southwest’s site. In all, the court found the existence of a valid contract and Kiwi’s likely breach of the terms, which prohibit scraping Southwest’s flight data and selling Southwest flights without authorization. The court also found that Southwest made a sufficient showing that Kiwi’s scraping and unauthorized sale of tickets, if not barred, would result in irreparable harm. In ultimately granting Southwest’s request for a preliminary injunction, the Texas court also found that Southwest also demonstrated the threatened injury if the injunction is denied outweighed any harm to Kiwi that will result if the injunction is granted and that the injunction would be in the public interest.

What made this result particularly notable is that the preliminary injunction is based on the likelihood of success on the merits of Southwest’s breach of contract claim and Kiwi’s alleged violation of Southwest’s site terms, as opposed to other recent scraping disputes which have centered around claims of unauthorized access under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

On January 14, 2021, Southwest Airlines Co. (“Southwest”) filed a complaint in a Texas district court against an online travel site, Kiwi.com, Inc. (“Kiwi”), alleging, among other things, that Kiwi’s scraping of fare information from Southwest’s website constituted a breach of contract and a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). (Southwest Airlines Co. v. Kiwi.com, Inc., No. 21-00098 (N.D. Tex. filed Jan. 14, 2021)). Southwest is no stranger in seeking and, in most cases, obtaining injunctive relief against businesses that have harvested its fare data without authorization – ranging as far back as the 2000s (See e.g., Southwest Airlines Co. v. BoardFirst, LLC, No. 06-0891 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 12, 2007), and as recently as two years ago, when we wrote about a 2019 settlement Southwest entered into with an online entity that scraped Southwest’s site and had offered a fare notification service, all contrary to Southwest’s terms.

According to the current complaint, Kiwi operates an online travel agency and engaged in the unauthorized scraping of Southwest flight and pricing data and the selling of Southwest tickets (along with allegedly charging unauthorized service fees), all in violation of the Southwest site terms. Upon learning of Kiwi’s scraping activities, Southwest sent multiple cease and desist letters informing Kiwi of its breach of the Southwest terms. It demanded that Kiwi cease scraping fare data, publishing fares on Kiwi’s site and using Southwest’s “Heart” logo in conjunction with the selling of tickets. Kiwi responded and sought to form a business relationship, an overture that Southwest refused.  According to Southwest, when discussions failed to yield a resolution, Kiwi allegedly continued its prior activities, prompting the filing of the suit.

In continuing its efforts to enforce its terms and policies against developers that engage in unauthorized scraping of user data, this week Facebook brought suit against two marketing analytics firms, BrandTotal Ltd (“BrandTotal”) and Unimania, Inc. (“Unimania”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) (Facebook, Inc. v. BrandTotal Ltd., No. 20Civ04246

In continuing its push to enforce its terms and policies against developers that engage in unauthorized collection or scraping of user data, Facebook brought suit last month against mobile marketing and data analytics firm OneAudience LLC. (Facebook, Inc. v. OneAudience LLC, No. 20-01461 (N.D. Cal. Complaint filed Feb. 27, 2020)). Facebook alleges that OneAudience harvested Facebook users’ profile data and device data in contravention of Facebook’s terms and developer policies. OneAudience purportedly gathered this data by paying app developers to bundle OneAudience’s software development kit (SDK) into their apps and then harvesting data for those users that logged into those apps via Facebook credentials.

UPDATE: On October 14, 2019, the parties entered into a Joint Stipulation dismissing the case, with prejudice.  It appears from some reports that Stackla’s access to Facebook has been reinstated as part of the settlement.
UPDATE: On September 27, 2019, the California district court issued its written order denying Stackla’s request for a TRO.  In short, the court found that, at this early stage, Stackla only demonstrated “speculative harm” and its “vague statements” did not sufficiently show that restoration of access to Facebook’s API would cure the alleged impending reality of Stackla losing customers and being driven out of business (“The extraordinary relief of a pre-adjudicatory injunction demands more precision with respect to when irreparable harm will occur than ‘soon.’”).  As for weighing whether a TRO would be in the public interest, the court, while understanding Stackla’s predicament, found that issuing a TRO could hamper Facebook’s ability to “decisively police its social-media platforms” and that there was a public interest in allowing a company to police the integrity of its platforms (“Facebook’s enforcement activities would be compromised if judicial review were expected to precede rather than follow its enforcement actions”). [emphasis in original]. This ruling leaves the issue for another day, perhaps during a preliminary injunction hearing, after some additional briefing of the issues.

The ink is barely dry on the landmark Ninth Circuit hiQ Labs decision. Yet, a new dispute has already cropped up testing the bounds of the CFAA and the ability of a platform to enforce terms restricting unauthorized scraping of social media content. (See Stackla, Inc. v. Facebook, Inc., No. 19-5849 (N.D. Cal. filed Sept. 19, 2019)).  This dispute involves Facebook and a social media sentiment tracking company, Stackla, Inc., which, as part of its business, accesses Facebook and Instagram content. This past Wednesday, September 25th, the judge in the case denied Stackla, Inc.’s request for emergency relief restoring its access to Facebook’s platform. While the judge has yet to issue a written ruling, the initial pleadings and memoranda filed in the case are noteworthy and bring up important issues surrounding the hot issue of scraping.

The Stackla dispute has echoes of hiQ v LinkedIn. Both involve the open nature of “public” websites (although the “public” nature of the content at issue appears to be in dispute.)  Both disputes address whether the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (the “CFAA”) can be used as a tool to prevent the scraping of such sites. Both disputes address how a platform may use its terms of use to prohibit automated scraping or data collection beyond the scope of such terms, although the discussion in hiQ was extremely brief.  And like hiQ, Stackla asserts that if not for the ability to use Facebook and Instagram data, Stackla would be out of business. Thus both disputes address whether a court’s equitable powers should come into play if a platform’s termination of access will result in a particular company’s insolvency.  Given the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in favor of hiQ, it is highly likely that Stackla’s lawyers believed the Ninth Circuit decision was their golden ticket in this case. The judge’s ruling on the request for emergency relief suggests they may be disappointed.

Two recent web scraping disputes highlight some important issues regarding whether a website owner may successfully allege a breach of contract action against a commercial party that has scraped website content contrary to “clickwrap” and “browsewrap” website terms of use.

In Southwest Airlines Co. v. Roundpipe, LLC, No. 18-0033 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 22, 2019), a Texas district court declined to dismiss Southwest Airlines Co.’s (“Southwest”) breach of contract claim against an entity that scraped airfare data from Southwest’s site in violation of the website terms of use. Southwest brought multiple claims against Roundpipe, LLC (“Roundpipe”) after it discovered that Roundpipe had created a website, SWMonkey.com, that, using scraping, sent consumers notifications if their Southwest ticket prices decreased after purchase (which would presumably allow them to exchange the original ticket for a lower-priced ticket).

Southwest’s website terms prohibited scraping or the use of any automated tools to access its fares or other content. Soon after the launch of SWMonkey, Southwest sent a cease and desist letter stating that Roundpipe was obtaining Southwest’s data in violation of the website terms, among other reasons, and demanded that the site be taken down.  After negotiations and additional correspondence from Southwest, Roundpipe shut down the website and disabled its scraping and fare tracking functionality.

This month, an Illinois district court considered another in the series of web scraping disputes that have been working their way through our courts.  In this dispute, CouponCabin, Inc. v. PriceTrace, LLC, No. 18-7525 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 11, 2019), CouponCabin alleged that a competitor, PriceTrace, scraped coupon codes from CouponCabin’s website without authorization and displayed them on its own website.

After discovering PriceTrace’s scraping activities, CouponCabin sent PriceTrace a cease and desist letter demanding that PriceTrace stop scraping data from CouponCabin’s website.  CouponCabin alleged that PriceTrace continued to access and scrape data from CouponCabin’s website even after the C&D letter was sent. As a result, CouponCabin brought several causes of action against PriceTrace, including claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), tortious interference and breach of contract.

The court found that CouponCabin’s C&D letter had revoked PriceTrace’s access to its site and that PriceTrace’s alleged continued access to the website plausibly stated a violation of the CFAA’s “unauthorized access” provision (18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2)(C)).  Ultimately, however, the court dismissed the CFAA claims with leave to amend, due to plaintiff’s failure to plead the requisite amount of damage or loss as required to maintain a civil action under the CFAA.

“CouponCabin is simply alleging that PriceTrace was able to circumvent CouponCabin’s website security, with no allegation that such evasion impairs or harm the website. Absent allegation of impairment, CouponCabin has merely alleged that PriceTrace accessed CouponCabin’s website without authorization.”