Adblock Plus wins again: New court ruling backs ad blocker against media firms

Publishers have failed again in their attempts to have ad blocking ruled illegal.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Last year, Facebook modified its code for presenting ads, so plugins couldn't identify them as ads and block them.

Image: Adblock Plus

Germany's Eyeo, the maker of the popular Adblock Plus browser extension that's used by hundreds of millions of people, has won another round of victories over media companies that sued it in the country.

Adblock Plus, as the name suggests, prevents ads from appearing in front of its users' eyes, unless their publishers are on a whitelist of companies that only use "acceptable ads". Adblock Plus means ads that don't pop out, auto-play video, and do other annoying things to attract people's attention.

Most controversially, the largest publishers in terms of ad impressions have to pay Adblock Plus a cut of their ad revenue to be on the whitelist -- the standard rate is 30 percent -- although their ads still need to meet the standard criteria for acceptability. The company says 90 percent of those on the list are there for free.

A host of publishers and broadcasters, which depend on advertising for their revenue, have sued Adblock Plus over the past few years, including Axel Springer, Die Zeit, Handelsblatt, RTL Interactive, ProSiebenSat.1 and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

All failed, with one partial exception: in June last year, Bild publisher Axel Springer got the Cologne higher regional court to rule it was illegal for Eyeo to charge Springer for the privilege of whitelisting.

On Thursday, a Munich appellate court ruled against RTL Interactive, ProSiebenSat.1 and Süddeutsche Zeitung in their most recent attempts to finally take down Adblock Plus.

Crucially, the court also said the outfit's "acceptable ads" whitelisting practices were themselves acceptable. This position contradicts the earlier ruling, by the Cologne court, in the Springer case.

RTL Interactive and ProSiebenSat.1 have been given leave to take their appeals against their fresh defeats to German's highest court, the federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe.

"With most of the lawsuits, they have a layered approach," said Eyeo public affairs chief Laura Sophie Dornheim.

"First of all they want to get ad-blocking forbidden completely. If that's not possible, they want ad-blocking with whitelists forbidden. For me, this is really just a vehicle to get to Adblock Plus, as it's the only company in German jurisdiction that they can get hold of."

However, the court did say online publishers are free to take countermeasures against Adblock Plus, for example, by shutting out readers who have the extension active in their browser. Many publishers do that these days.

A year ago, Facebook also started fighting back against ad-blockers by modifying the code for presenting ads on its site, so that the plugins couldn't identify them as ads and block them.

Adblock Plus figured out a way to bypass Facebook's new mechanism, the whole thing went back and forth for a few rounds, and the current status is that Adblock Plus can't block ads on the social network.

"We are working on a fix, but we want the next solution to be more permanent," Dornheim said. "There are other blockers who do manage to block ads [on Facebook], but they are interfering more with the code of the site, sometimes causing the design of the website to more or less crash or be less usable, and we don't want to do that."

"We respect the publishers' settings and their decisions," she added. "We intentionally do not circumvent paywalls. Publishers have a right to choose who they're serving their content to."

Previous coverage

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