German court (again) says ad blocking legal; Axel Springer given consolation prize on appeal · 2016-06-24 12:18 by Ben Williams

You might remember a few months back when Axel Springer sued us to try and get ad blocking outlawed. We won that, but Axel Springer appealed. We just got the results of that appeal, and ad blocking was yet again proven totally legal by the regional court of appeals in Cologne, Germany.

Axel Springer is a multi-billion dollar digital publishing house which owns a majority of the daily newspapers in Germany, and whose tentacles operations stretch out over 40 countries worldwide. They originally sued Adblock Plus claiming that “it’s the constitutional right of the press to advertise.” No product, they said, should give users the power to block those ads. What’s more, their attorneys even claimed that Axel Springer’s “core business is to deliver ads to its visitors. Journalistic content is just a vehicle to get readers to view the ads.”

The fourth estate, and users, sighed in unison … But their case was not successful. Now they’ve appealed.

As said, we won the main part of their multi-pronged appeal. Ad blocking was once more proven 100 percent legal. However, this time the court found an obscure, newly passed statute in German unfair competition law. Introduced in December 2015, this statute, Paragraph 4a UWG, is based on a European directive that was intended to protect consumers against aggressive business tactics. But Germany rewrote the law, taking it farther than Europe intended, and making it apply not just between businesses and consumers but also between businesses and other businesses.

Axel Springer’s attorneys used this sub-clause to justify their secondary request to the court: “to ban an adblocker if that ad blocker allows ads that meet certain criteria and requires that Springer [emphasis mine] needs to pay a fee for it.”

Now, the Acceptable Ads initiative to which this obliquely refers is completely fair and utterly transparent. What it provides is a way for publishers and advertisers, if they so choose, to reach ad blockers on their terms.

But because of this finding, we have to change how we offer whitelisting to Axel Springer in Germany. Normally, because Axel Springer would probably qualify as a “large entity” per our rules, they would pay; but because of this ruling, we have to treat them as a special case. Simply put, we can’t accept compensation for the services we might render to them. So, if Springer brings us ads to whitelist, and these fit our criteria, we’ll whitelist them for free just like the other 90 percent of the companies on our whitelist.

Rest assured, we’re going to appeal. And we’re confident that Germany’s supreme court (the Bundesgerichtshof) will overturn this one part of the decision.

Comment [3]

  1. Karina Martínez · 2016-07-02 22:23 · #

    I’m not agree with German court. Axel Springer must pay for Adblock Plus services and stop grooming moustache. (sorry for my por english)
    My support from Santiago de Chile.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Thanks for the support!

  2. roxxor · 2016-07-07 14:55 · #

    1. You say adblock was created because ads became too intrusive, but if a large publisher has non-intrusive ads they still have to pay you. Why? Just because they are big means they should be required to pay you something?

    2. Online newspapers have been losing ad revenue in favour of Google and Facebook over the years, most of them will die if they change to a new business model. You are helping them go under pretending it’s justified.

    3. The alternative for newspapers to make revenue from online content are subscriptions. This is where I think the biggest hypocrisy of adblock comes. Why do you allow blocking of paywall scripts with your software? There are posts on your forums about disabling paywall messaging. I thought your mission was preventing users from being bombarded by ads, not preventing companies to make any profit from the product they create (content). Sites still have to pay their staff and operating costs – a fact you conveniently ignore.

    4. Do you realize that by allowing sites to pay you for displaying their ads your business model is essentially extortion?

    So much for your self righteousness

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Hi roxxor,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I unfortunately disagree with almost all of them — big surprise, eh? :) — but I appreciate the constructive bits of the criticism.

    1/ Nope. ABP was created to block ALL THE THINGS. And it did, until we decided that selective ad blocking is a more sustainable approach. So when we decided to allow some ads through, we found that doing so required lots of work if the website was big. So we charge in the 10% of cases when it requires a lot of service, and the other 90% are whitelisted for free. (Btw, there is no way to “automatically” unblock ads that fit our criteria.)

    2/ Ads are not going to disappear overnight. We’re trying to make the blocked part of the web accessible to publishers who will still rely on ads, but who can do so on ad block users’ terms.

    But that’s not all we’ve done: https://adblockplus.org/blog/flattr-plus

    3/ That’s not the only alternative, actually. See Flattr Plus (link above) or other creative solutions to monetizing content. The web of the future will have ads, but it will also need more innovative solutions than one-off subscriptions.

    4/ Do you work for the PR department at a publishers’ association? ;) This is a fabricated and false argument, I’m afraid. What Acceptable Ads is doing is providing a way for publishers to reach an audience that was previously lost — and critically, on their own terms. I understand that it’s controversial, but there’s no reason to get emotional.

    Finally, if you don’t think Acceptable Ads is a good idea, why not just turn it off?

  3. Leather Bags Manufacturers · 2016-07-10 12:55 · #

    We are happy german court says its legal, we are with you

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Glad to know you’ve got our back!

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