Ryanair has recently claimed victory in a Hamburg Regional Court dispute, preventing a third party website run by Vtours GmbH from "screen scraping" its website. This success was promptly followed with a similar action raised in Dublin against Bravofly. More unusually perhaps, on 11 August, Ryanair announced that it will cancel all of its customers' bookings made through "screen scraping" websites.

Screen scraping essentially involves copying information from another company's, in this case Ryanair's, website by automatically completing the website's forms/fields and displaying the results. Ryanair has outlined that third parties are able to profit from its services, charging handling fees for what often amounts to little more than the automated screen scraping of its flight details.

The practice is used by travel companies or comparison sites to "scrape" airline's websites and display their flights for sale. Screen scraping remains de rigeur in the personal finance and travel industries, with businesses often welcoming the commerce brought by third party sites "scraping" their services.

Ryanair has cited copyright/database infringement, passing off and breach of website terms of use amongst the legal grounds in seeking to prevent the practice. The terms of use argument is likely to be vulnerable to a classic problem with website terms of use – whether they are actually incorporated as an agreement with the user. Often website terms of this type are an optional link and flight details and prices can be obtained without users explicitly accepting the terms (i.e. being provided with the terms and an "accept" box).

Copyright and database right infringement, and passing off, are more viable legal grounds. It could be contended that the copyright in the layout of the data is infringed, or more likely that the "database right" has been infringed. The database right protects certain data which has taken a substantial investment of time and/or money to obtain, and Ryanair could have robust grounds to contend there has been infringement in this manner. Finally, it could be contended, depending on the manner of the screen scraping, that screen scrapers' use of the Ryanair trade mark constitutes trade mark infringement.

Ryanair is most likely keen to ensure its trade mark and branding remains prominent throughout the ordering process. Furthermore, there is the issue of Ryanair retaining control of presentation of its services, maximising profits from advertising space on its site and perhaps also control of the numerous additional charges/services offered to website users.

In the meantime, one major price comparison site has outlined that purchases made through it should remain valid as customers are eventually directed to the airline's site rather than booking tickets within the screen scraper's website. Ryanair is collaborating with Microsoft to create a website which, it is hoped, cannot be screen scraped.