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Are Ad Blockers Illegal?
Users may not be laughing about it for long
by KathrynV 03:07PM Saturday Sep 15 2007
Last month a web designer named Jack Lewis gained some attention when he proposed the notion that using AdBlockers is stealing. His proposal backfired; the media attention made new users aware of AdBlockers and they have gained popularity since. Most of us have laughed off Lewis’s idea, but ZDNet takes a look at the potential lawsuits that really could come out of the use of ad blockers.
“If ad-blockers become so common that they slice away at publishers' revenues, "I absolutely would expect to see litigation in this area," said John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.”

The legal issue is one of copyrights. Websites (such as MySpace and one Fox TV affiliate) which prohibit ad-blocking as part of their terms of service agreement can possibly claim that blocking ads violates copyrights “through derivative works”. No litigation is happening yet and interested parties including the Interactive Advertising Bureau claim to be seeking a non-litigious compromise to the issue. One solution may be to make online ads less obnoxious; readers in our forums say that normal commercials don’t bother them but the intensity of online ads combined with their potential malware / spyware damage is what makes them want to use ad blockers.

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Monroe, MI

3 recommendations

Raises More Legal Issues

Legal action against ad blocking software manufacturers will not solve anything because someone will create packages and release them into the wild for free. You can certainly try to shut down the distribution of such software, but it's a futile attempt.

What will be a more logical approach is to simply block people who block ads. But the only way to do that is to see who isn't downloading the ads and block them and that isn't going to stop people from downloading the ads, but not rendering them. How are you going to stop things like custom CSS files that download the ads, but snuff them out during rendering?

This is a legal battle that I don't think advertisers have thought out very carefully. It's going to open up, in a court of law, the legality of using cookies for tracking by ad servers who are a third party of the visitor and web site operator. It also will undoubtedly question the legality of the third (and fourth, fifth and sixth on some sites) party running Javascript on my computer without my consent.

Once again, advertisers have abused the very fragile quid pro quo of viewer and advertiser. It is always a trade between the time of the viewer and content. The advertiser has slowly been tipping that trade more and more in their favor; more commercials per hour, more obtrusive advertising and online, obnoxious and annoying ads complete with privacy intrusions and tracking. I invite them to take this to court, I think it'll be an interesting day when these people get a lot less than they bargained for.


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reply to tschmidt

Re: Individual vs Business

I agree, use of ad-blocking software is not contrary to any existing principles of law. Some new theory could be introduced by statute or court decision, but it would be wrong in terms of traditional copyright law.

By putting up a website you offer copies of your content to the public. A "terms of service" notice purporting to impose a contract has no effect unless you require visitors to indicate agreement as a condition of letting them see the pages.

Then once they've retrieved the pages, they're entitled to do whatever they want with them, as long as they don't republish without permission. To understand this, consider buying a magazine, or receiving one for free: the publisher still has a copyright on the intangible content, but the particular copy of the content is now your property, and you're within your rights to cut out pictures if you want to, or throw away those subscription cards.

Also, note that a web page is only a text file with (a) text for humans to read (b) html formatting and (c) scripts and links that instruct the browser to retrieve other files or take other actions. It would be absurd to pretend that by downloading this hunk of text you somehow take on an obligation to make your browser follow the instructions in it and retrieve other files. If you tell your browser not to retrieve certain things you haven't altered the html in any way by doing so.

Can you do Blu?
Hercules, CA

1 edit

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reply to ztmike

Re: hm

said by ztmike:

So what if they DO ban the software for users to download..You will still have people with older versions using the software.

Most adblock programs are made by users themselfs..it would be like going after p2p users one would pop up after the next.
Don't trip!
Most browsers themselves have Blacklists(mine do)...
Just right click the ad, get the server's address, and paste it into the Blacklist.

Got Hosts File?
Think outside the Fox... Opera

Can you do Blu?
Hercules, CA

12 recommendations

reply to Sircolby450

Re: How are they gonna know?

Here, one of the ways I have to kill ads is with my firewall.
It denies the ad server connection.
If the connection is denied, they may see it.
If the connection is made, but no data is transferred(images/flash/???), they may see that.

Do I care? HELL NO!
This is MY computer!
*I* pay for the bandwidth and *I* say what gets sent across my connection.
*I* determin what gets displayed on *MY* screen!

Sue me? Ha Ha! Byte Me!

They no likey? Tough shitsky!
Think outside the Fox... Opera