What constitutes "stealing" when it comes to publicly posted financial data?

I think there are three instances of this that we can individually vet:

  • a.) you physically broke into a location or physically broke into a computer to take the information. this is wrong. this is not ok.
  • b.) you're getting the information off of sites like google finance and yahoo finance, etc, using some automated scraping tools you've written that use things like, say, wget and ruby, and do daily scrapes to each and every company
  • c.) you're getting the information off of a paid service like x.com that sells financial data. you have told these people that you are using the data for some purpose other than what you're using the data for (because these people are salespeople and they don't actually have quoted rates, they sell data access like they sell cars), and they have agreed to sell it to you at a reasonable rate because you're not re-syndicating it. In reality, even, you're not re-syndicating the data, you're just using it to create a product that uses, say, 1% of that data at any given moment and does not sell it to others in any string-readable-format.

I'm not interested in ethics here. My ethics state that this information should be free already in a readily accessible format. I'm interested in the legality (and practical reality of) data-acquisition on the internet.

Am I legally allowed to take and use factual data (viz. non-creative content) for my own commercial purposes? Can I just take information? Is it considered "intellectual property"? Is data on publicly traded financial companies property at all? Could it ever be? I'm not trying to load the discussion, but I do have an opinion on this.

Opinions, however, are not what I'm asking for, though you're welcome to share them. I'm interested in

  • a.) legality
  • b.) the practical reality of data-acquisition (what do companies like Accenture and McKinsey do to get their data?)

edge cases ("would it be legal if"):

  • you scraped a public site's data and used it in the making of a commercial project
  • you scraped a private (paid, premium) site's data and used it in the making of a commercial project
  • you used a public REST API to get data and used that in the making of a commercial project
  • you used a private/premium/paid REST API to get data and used that in the making of a commercial project
  • $\begingroup$ We can't possibly offer legal advise here. The only way to know if you're in the clear is to ask your data vendor whether your specific application is legitimate. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2012 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Well, "legal advice" isn't really what I'm asking about. I'm really just asking for stories and experience from the community. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2012 at 17:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Asking for "stories and experience" isn't a good fit for this site. $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2012 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


there is no stealing of data unless you delete it from the original source. Let me elaborate, as the semantics are very important here. Stealing, even with quotes around it, "Stealing" requires that something is removed from the original place. You steal car. You copy a file, as such data is protected via copyright when it can and other subsequent acts that essentially provide remedies for unauthorized use outside the scope of copyright.

Therefore, financial data on public filings is protected by copyright, and it doesn't matter if it is posted in the SEC's database or a site reselling it. The question you are asking is about copyright infringement and what rights you have.

This very question was challenged by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Inc.


and it was determined by a court that the entity was infringing on the copyrights of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association.

so, as it was suggested, you would need to talk to the data vendor to determine if your specific application is legitimate to them and you may need to cut a deal (Accenture and McKinsey do). Because it absolutely will not be state-sanctioned by default.

This should help answer your question.


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