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Ryanair wins German court victory in screen-scraping injunction

Aggregator Vtours ordered to stop

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Ryanair has claimed a German court victory against a tour company it has accused of screen-scraping its website against its wishes. The airline said that Hamburg Regional Court has awarded it an injunction against Vtours.

Screen-scraping is when one company takes information from another's website by automatically filling in forms and harvesting the results. Some travel companies scrape airline sites to offer their customers flights.

The practice is common amongst aggregators in the personal finance and travel industries and many companies welcome the extra business aggregators' scraping brings, but Ryanair vehemently opposes the practice. It has just begun a court case in Dublin against an operator it accuses of scraping its site.

Ryanair told OUT-LAW.COM that the Hamburg court has issued an injunction preventing Vtours from conducting scraping.

"This order effectively prevents Vtours GmBH from unlawfully accessing Ryanair’s website, and presenting Ryanair’s flights and timetables for sale to Vtours GmBH customers," said a Ryanair statement.

Ryanair's terms and conditions forbid commercial use of information from its website, and it counts screen-scraping as commercial use.

The company said that scraping is infringement of its copyright and terms of use, and outlined other problems it has with the practice.

The buck stops there

"Many of these screen-scrapers charge consumers a handling fee for their non existent service of showing them Ryanair’s lowest prices … fail to provide passengers with Ryanair’s terms and conditions of travel … [and] do not pass on Ryanair email messages about flight changes, delays or policy changes."

"Ryanair believes these screen-scrapers are nothing more than video or software pirates and we will continue to campaign across Europe for legislation to prohibit this unlawful screen-scraping and this breach of copyright laws, which will prevent these profiteering middlemen from engaging in the mis-selling of Ryanair’s flights and information," said Ryanair's Michael Cawley.

"It is simply unacceptable that consumers are being misled by these screen-scrapers into paying 'handling charges' for Ryanair’s flights when they can purchase the same flights with no handling charge on www.ryanair.com," said Cawley. "We remain deeply concerned at the failure of many of these screen-scrapers to properly communicate Ryanair’s terms and conditions, our policies or up to date flight changes and flight information, to customers who mistakenly believe that they have made bookings directly with Ryanair."

Ryanair this week began a case in the Irish courts against Bravofly accusing it of screen-scraping its site, which it said breaks laws on trade marks, copyright and amounts to 'passing off'.

Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons and editor of OUT-LAW.COM, said that the argument about breaching Ryanair's terms and conditions is a weaker one than asserting infringement of copyright or database rights.

"The site that is being scraped might say that its terms and conditions forbid any form of scraping. The site that is doing the scraping might counter that those terms and conditions do not count because they are not incorporated into any contract between the parties," he said. "It may be a fair argument if those terms of use are just an optional link like they are on Ryanair's website.

"Arguing infringement of database rights might be a more powerful argument," he said. "Websites can fit the definition of a database in these rules, which apply across Europe, though there is some uncertainty about the extent of the rights."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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