AdBlock is Legal, Says German Federal Court of Justice

By Tom Pritchard on at

There are a lot of people who don't like adblock software. Advertisers, publishers, Google, you name it. While some of those companies have tried to subtly encourage people to accept ads (or  at least some ads in Google's case), there are those who want more proactive measures. Facebook announced it would circumvent adblockers, much to the fury of people around the world, but German publisher Axel Springer took it a step further and was trying to sue AdBlock Plus. Emphasis on "was" because that case has now been thrown out by the German Federal Court of Justice.

The lawsuit kicked off three years ago in 2015, with Axel Springer alleging that the way AdBlock Plus let people not view online adverts was unfair competition. Essentially this came down to the fact AdBlock Plus has a 'whitelist' that allows non-intrusive advertising, but publishers who want to be on the whitelist have to pay for the privilege. Axel Springer complained this was a breach of competition law, then promptly lost the case not long afterwards. So it swore to restart its efforts by bringing the case before the Federal Court of Justice.

It's worth mentioning at this point that Axel Springer is not the only German media company to go after the Cologne-based AdBlock Plus, with similar claims that the simple act of allowing users to block adverts was a violation of laws that promoted competition.

The Federal Court of Justice didn't agree with Axel Springer, seeing as how it's up to the user whether or not they actually installed adblocking software in the first place. It also went ahead and overturned a ruling by a Munich appellate court that forced AdBlock Plus parent company Eyeo to whitelist some adverts for free. The court also declared that Eyeo is not using AdBlock to interfere with the freedom of the press, as had been claimed previously.

Naturally Eyeo was quite happy with the result, saying it was "excited that Germany's highest court upheld the right every internet citizen possesses to block unwanted advertising online". Meanwhile Axel Springer's head of media law, Claas-Hendrick Soehring, who clearly isn't allowed to be happy with the result, declared the court's decision to be an "attack on the heart of the free media". Which is the clichéd response far too many media companies use when things don't go their way.

The publisher isn't going to stop now, and has plans to take the case even further to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court. Telling ZDNet:

"We see in today's judgement a violation of constitutionally protected press freedom, as ad blocking purposefully destroys the integrity of online media and its funding.

Programmes such as Adblock Plus jeopardise the quality and variety of information services and thus harm the interests of the general public."

Axel Springer has also claimed AdBlock Plus breaks copyright law by altering the underlying code of websites its users visit, something Eyeo has denied - seeing as how it's on the user's computer and can't interact with a site's source code. Head of communications Laura Dornheim also pointed out that Axel Springer "are reporting double-digit revenue growth in their digital media department" so AdbLock's mere presence isn't going to kill off the media. [BBC News | ZDNet]