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What is the legal position on data trawling of websites in the UK?

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Last Modified: 2013-11-25
This question is about the legal position on data trawling of websites.

I believe a competitor of ours has programatically trawled at least one of our sites in order to copy our database and then generate a range of products which mimics our own. As our website is out there for public consumption, I don't know where that leaves us in terms of any kind of "theft of intellectual property" situation.  My question is to get clarification on this.

Background:
I run a few sites which use underlying databases where the information is publicly exposed - and deliberately so, so that the site data can be indexed by search engines and so that customers of ours can find us.  My company manufactures replacement parts and our database reflects our knowledge of replaceable parts there are and which parts we have had engineered to replace them. (The database spans 100's of thousands of items). Whilst that data is valuable to us, it does us no good if potential customers cannot find us.

I've recently discovered a web site which appears to serve no other purpose than to list out a very specific copy of a small part of our database (a few hundred items).  To any public viewers of this site, there is no means of contacting anyone, ordering anything or doing anything meaningful with the data.  However, on a non-googleable admin page on the site, one can see the same data along with links back to our site to the relevant product pages.  Investigating who owns the domain, it appears to be owned by someone affiliated with a competitor of ours.

Coincidentally, one of our sales chaps mentioned to me that this competitor has recently produced replacement parts covering a range which exactly mimics the same chunk of our database.

So has our competitor actually done anything legally wrong, or is this sort of thing fair game?

If our competitors are legally able to analyse the results of our research in this way, then maybe my company needs to get on the bandwaggon and do some data trawling of its own so that its not left at a competitive disadvantage.
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Yes, I am in the UK and we're forwarding a summary of the situation to our legal people now.

Our fear is that the site we have come across is a visible sign of intellectual property theft but, in itself, the site isn't a significant problem.  Forcing them to close the site would not really achieve a lot.

The perceived problem is that, in addition to the data visibly copied from our site and put on display in theirs, a vast volume of data might be copied to a non-public location and used.

Thanks for your comments - its in the hands of our solicitors now.

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