Towns delay crackdown on illegal rentals
February 2, 2011
The Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) has pressed pause on plans to begin hunting down vacation rental owners who aren’t remitting lodging taxes or paying necessary business license fees.
Home Away, the parent company to VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner), has threatened legal action against CAST if it begins to use a newly developed software program to gather information from online vacation rental advertisements, cross-referencing that information with town records to discover people illegally renting their property.
According to Wikipedia, “web scraping” is a general term for automatically collecting information from websites. Web scraping is closely related to “web indexing,” a technique regularly employed by most search engines.
In contrast, the Wikipedia entry states, “web scraping focuses more on the transformation of unstructured web content, typically in HTML format, into structured data that can be stored and analyzed in a central local database or spreadsheet.”
Virginia-based Eye Street Solutions, the software company that developed this program, stands by its technology and believes it’s legal … tracking Internet sites in the same way as Google, said Joyce Burford, executive director of CAST.
“People all over the world are going onto websites and getting information,” she said.
While the Supreme Court has yet to hear any cases involving web scraping, “it is difficult to ignore a pattern emerging that the courts are prepared to protect proprietary content on commercial web sites from uses which are undesirable to the owners of such sites,” writes Kenneth A. Adler in a 2003 article for the New York Law Journal.
“This is another one of those Wild West scenarios,” Burford said.
To protect themselves, the towns that comprise CAST have asked Eye Street to come up with indemnification language for all the contracts signed between the towns and Eye Street, Burford said. Once this is complete, she feels positive that the project will be back on track.