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29 May 2015

Another German court says Adblock can keep blocking ads Internet

Adblock Plus is a very popular little program that plugs into your web browser. As its name suggests, it keeps ads from appearing in your web browser. While users love it, advertisers and some webmasters hate it. Its authors, Eyeo, are a small German company that has been sued in German courts several times, and won every time. This week a Munich court ruled in its favor again.

The way that web pages and banner ads work makes the technical part of blocking ads very easy. A web page is actually more like a recipe that tells your browser how to combine text in the page with other items including images and ads. Every item on the page has its own URL. Ads invariably come from ad network servers like, so all a program like Adblock has to do is to have a list of the names of ad network servers and not fetch those URLs. Although Adblock does what it does well, it's far from the only way to block ads. A decade ago I adjusted the DNS on my network to redirect all requests to a server that returned a small blue rectangular image, which let me see exactly where all the ads were I wasn't seeing. (All over the place, it turned out.)

This case, in Munich, was filed by a pair of large broadcasters who are starting to distribute material online, and had issues similar to the previous case, in Hamburg, filed by a pair of large publishers. Part of the argument was a general claim that without web ads, it's an existential threat to content on the Internet which would disappear and, by implication, civilization as we know it would go with it. A more concrete complaint was about Eyeo's "acceptable ads" program in which an advertiser can pay Eyeo to consider letting their ads appear anyway. Large advertisers including Google and Yahoo have reportedly paid, and the complaint, which is not totally unreasonable, is that the program was in effect extortion, shaking down advertisers to get their ads through. Both courts found that Eyeo didn't have a large enough market share to significantly affect the ad market, so tough. I can also report that as a long time Adblock user, the ads they don't block are pretty innocuous, most notably the context ads that appear with Google search results.

German copyright law has a strong tradition of moral rights which stay with material and, contrary to North American tradition, place some limits on how one can use copyrighted material. Not having read the decision, I don't know whether it's that the purveyors of blinking ad units are not the starving artists moral rights are intended to protect, or it wasn't enough of a threat for moral rights to be an issue, but either way it's a win for consumers.

Finally, I have to say that people have been taking the intrusive ads out of their media as long as there have been ads and media. As soon as people could videotape TV shows, they fast forwarded over the ads (which of course DVRs don't let you do unless you hack them, cough.) Even with plain broadcast TV and radio, we all stampeded to the kitchen and bathroom when ads came on. So if the advertisers want people to see the ads, they should really think less about how to force them on unwilling recipients and more about how to make them interesting and useful, with Google's context search ads as the usual example. But I'm not holding my breath.

  posted at: 18:03 :: permanent link to this entry :: 0 comments
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