Legal War on Ad Blocking May Be a Loser, if Recent German Rulings Are Any Guide

While the U.S. Ad Industry Explores Legal Options, German Courts Are Deciding Cases

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The ad industry is looking into potential legal routes to head off ad blockers.
The ad industry is looking into potential legal routes to head off ad blockers. Credit: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg

The ad industry is looking into whether it has potential legal remedies against ad blockers in the U.S., but the issue is already playing out in German courts -- in favor of the blockers.

The regional court in Cologne ruled this week, for example, in favor of Adblock Plus and Eyeo, the company that makes it, rejecting arguments by German publisher Axel Springer.

Adblock Plus and its Acceptable Ads program do not "breach laws on competition, copyright or market dominance," the court found, according to Reuters.

Adblock Plus uses Acceptable Ads to whitelists ads that it deems unintrusive, at no charge to small- and medium-sized sites but with fees to "some larger properties." That would presumably include Axel Springer, one of Europe's largest publishers.

Companies paying to be on the whitelist, according to a report by the Financial Times, include Google and Bing.

Many in adland have taken issue with the idea of a whitelist for advertising in recent weeks, with Interactive Advertising Bureau President-CEO Randall Rothenberg writing in Advertising Age that it's a shakedown. And ad blocking more generally has set off alarms as consumers seem to adopt it in greater numbers.

The IAB reiterated on Tuesday during a press conference on ad blocking that it is looking into possible legal avenues to fight the practice.

Axel Springer said in a statement that it continues to consider the business model of Eyeo illegal. "This position refers to both the suppressing of advertisements on publishers' websites as well as the extortive practice of 'whitelisting', which means that publishers can pay a ransom for being exempt from the blocking of advertisements," the company said. "It seems like the core interest of 'Eyeo' is to get their hands on advertising money. If this practice continues and is even approved by courts, we put at risk the refinancing -- and hence the existence --of professional online journalism."

The case was only the most recent complaint to play out in German courts, which have ruled twice this year already on the issue, also in favor of ad blockers.

"Like Superman and Batman, we're finding that protecting consumer rights -- in our case against well-funded lawyers -- is a lot of hard work," said Till Faida, co-founder of Adblock Plus, in a statement on the latest ruling. "The added insult in this lawsuit was Axel Springer's attack on our Acceptable Ads, which is a perfectly reasonable effort to allow well-meaning websites and responsible content producers to earn ad revenues. It shows just how unreasonable and anti-innovative some publishers can be. It's no mystery why so many people install ad blockers."

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