Court rules that Adblocking does not constitute copyright infringement |

Court rules that Adblocking does not constitute copyright infringement

Axel Springer, a German publishing house, lost its copyright infringement lawsuit against Eyeo GmbH, the company that owns Adblock Plus.


Axel Springer owns publications and claims that adblockers interfere with the presentation of websites, thus breaching copyright. 

In a defeat for Axel, the Hamburg District Court in Germany dismissed the case.

In order for most websites to finance their operations, they must generate advertising revenue. But many readers find the advertising excessive and intrusive, and often block the ads with adblocking tools.

The most popular adblocking tool on the market is AdBlock Plus, available on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, iOS, and Android. 

AdBlock Plus drastically reduces the number of ads seen by users but that doesn’t sit well for publishers like Axel Springer, hence the lawsuit.

Axel Springer’s latest lawsuit stated that AdBlock Plus, “changed the programming code of websites thus directly accessing the legally protected offer of publishers.”

Eyeo refuted the claim by noting that AdBlock Plus does not modify anything, but Axil Springer pressed ahead with legal action, which ended up failing in court.

In its lawsuit, Axel Springer cited a 2012 court ruling which found that software for Sony’s PlayStation Portable had changed the code to facilitate cheating, and that constituted copyright infringement.

In that case the court found that the temporary modification of the software constituted a revision of the software, an act requiring permission from owners.

But in this case, there were no claims that AdBlock Plus modified any copyrighted works. Instead, Springer claimed that the software alters how copyrighted content is displayed in a web browser. 

According to a judgment handed down by the Hamburg Regional Court, that is not enough to determine copyright infringement by AdBlock Plus, or its users.

The court found that Axel Springer is not entitled to injunctive relief as there was no unauthorized duplication and/or alteration of copyrighted computer programs.

“[T]he defendants have not infringed the plaintiff’s rights to the programs for creating the web pages. The defendants are not – together with the respective user – accessories to a copyright infringement.” reads the decision.

According to the Court, “the HTML files and other elements are loaded into the user’s main memory when Axel Springer-controlled web pages are accessed, but that takes place with the publisher’s consent. Users who access those pages and also use AdBlock Plus are also entitled to store those files since when the files are transferred, there is an implied agreement for the user to do so.”

Basically, AdBlock Plus only changes the structure of how a website’s code is presented on a browser, the tool does not actually change the code itself.

The Court also noted that ruling otherwise would represent a “disproportionate encroachment” on users’ freedoms to make various choices, like the choice to not to load images to save bandwidth, or to deactivate Javascript, or block pop-ups/tracking elements. It would also render aids and translation tools for the visually impaired as copyright infringing.

In a published statement, Eyeo says that it has tirelessly defended the rights of Internet users, software developers and publishers, and that they are happy with the verdict, because it’s a win for a free and secure internet.

“The Hamburg Regional Court sets an important precedent here: No company has the right to prohibit users from setting their own browser settings. The ruling also gives many companies the legal certainty they need to continue developing applications that change users’ lives for the better.” - Eyeo CEO Till Faida.

Though the case was dismissed, Axel Springer says it will file an appeal that will take place before the same court which previously ruled on the Playstation Portable cheating case.  

TAGS: adblock plus, Axel Springer