“Their contention was robots.txt had no legal force and they could sue anyone for accessing their site even if they scrupulously obeyed the instructions it contained. The only legal way to access any web site with a crawler was to obtain prior written permission. ”
“Facebook’s statement of rights and responsibilites (sic) says that users agree not to collect users’ content or information ‘using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission’”
In Register.com v. Verio, the court held that a person who was accessing a site in violation of the Terms of Service could be held liable for trespass to chattels. Chattel is, simply, personal property like a watch, couch, wife (just a joke, calm down), etc. If your neighbor were to tap into your cable line and use your cable, he would be trespassing against your chattel. Much the same way here, a person who continues to access your server in ways that you have made clear are unacceptable is trespassing against your chattel.
While Facebook may or may not be making the best business decision here, it is certainly making the correct legal decision. Mr. Masnick says in the article “At best, I could see them terminating his account for disobeying the terms of service.” Unfortunately, the law doesn’t work that way. This isn’t a pro-Facebook or pro-Terms of Service law article. This is just the state of the law as it relates to violations of Terms of Service. If the case had gone to court, the developer would have lost and could have faced injunctions, damages, and possibly punitive damages (since this is an intentional tort).
If a developer plans on making a service or application that relies on another person or company’s servers, she should read the applicable Terms of Service first and make sure that she is not going to violate them. If the developer fails to do so, she is likely going to expend time and effort on a venture that can be stopped by the company at any time. While I am certainly not qualified to determine if Facebook made the right business decision here, I am very certain that creating an application that relies on violating another company’s Terms of Service is a very bad business decision.