Facebook Drops Anti-Scraping Lawsuit Against Bright Data (Guest Blog Post)

by guest blogger Kieran McCarthy

There is a new most important legal precedent in the world of web scraping.

Bright Data appears to have prevailed in its dispute against Meta. Last Friday, the parties stipulated to dismiss their lawsuit, with Meta formally waiving its right to appeal the controversial January 23rd decision from Judge Chen.

Given that most observers in this space were surprised by Judge Chen’s summary judgment decision, Meta’s decision not to appeal seems even more surprising.

For the last few years, Meta has had a team of attorneys dedicated to policing unauthorized forms of scraping and data collection on Meta platforms. The decision not to further pursue these claims seems as close to waving the white flag as you can get against these kinds of companies.

But why? Judge Chen’s opinion was certainly a departure from prior precedent. Facebook had previously appealed and won major decisions to the 9th Circuit. I can’t imagine that Meta’s attorneys didn’t at least think that they had a chance on appeal.

For me, I suspect the decision not to appeal might be more about a shift in philosophy by Meta and perhaps some of the other big platforms than it is about their confidence in their ability to win this case. Today, perhaps more important to Meta than keeping others off their public data is having access to everyone else’s public data. Meta is concerned that their perceived hypocrisy on these issues might just work against them. Just last month, Meta had its success in prior scraping cases thrown back in their face in a trespass to chattels case. Perhaps they were worried here that success on appeal might do them more harm than good.

In short, I think Meta cares more about access to large volumes of data and AI than it does about outsiders scraping their public data now. My hunch is that they know that any success in anti-scraping cases can be thrown back at them in their own attempts to build AI training databases and LLMs. And they care more about the latter than the former.

Not that Meta has completely abandoned web-scraping litigation. They’re still litigating against Voyager Labs, an AI-surveillance company used by many police departments and law enforcement officials, and they filed aggressive new motions in that case just last week.

But now, they might have chosen to accept the public/private distinction that many web-scraping advocates have long sought to establish as precedent.

For years, the consensus to those with a superficial understanding of the law was that there was an affirmative legal right to scrape public data, even if the underlying legal reality did not reflect that belief. Now, those who want to believe that, and those are motivated to make those arguments, have strong precedent to rely on when they do. Because for the first time, a company with knowledge of an online agreement–acting in purported violation of that agreement by scraping–succeeded in defeating a breach of contract claim.