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.
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