A German regional court has ruled modifying web pages to remove advertising is entirely legal, following complaints against Adblock Plus parent company Eyeo GmbH by two German publishers.
Ad blocking is a contentious issue: its proponents argue that without an ad blocker some sites are simply impossible to navigate, while its critics point out that advertising revenue is typically the only thing keeping websites afloat. It also leads to an unfortunate escalation process: as more people use ad blockers advertisers need to increase the conversion rate of the viewers that are left and typically do so by making the adverts more obvious and intrusive, which in turn leads to more people using ad blockers.
Zeit Online and Handelsbatt, two web publishers in Germany, sought to make the use of Adblock Plus - one of the most popular browser-based ad-blocking packages around - illegal in the country, arguing that Adblock Plus parent company Eyeo had no right to modify web pages it did not own. Eyeo, naturally, argued that it was modifying nothing that the owner of the computer on which the web pages were being displayed did not specifically request to be modified - an argument which the Hamburg court found entirely reasonable.
As a result, following a four-month trial, ad-blocking has been confirmed as legal in Germany in a ruling which is likely to be referenced in similar cases throughout Europe. 'We are extremely happy with the decision reached today by the Hamburg regional court,
' an Eyeo spokesperson claimed in an official statement late yesterday. 'This is a victory for every single Internet user because it confirms each individual’s right to block annoying ads, protect their privacy and, by extension, determine his or her own Internet experience. It is living proof of the unalienable right of every user to enjoy online self-determination.
Eyeo's Adblock Plus has been the target of some criticism from both sides of the spectrum following its adoption of an 'acceptable ads' stance. When the setting is enabled, as it is by default, adverts Eyeo claims are acceptable and non-intrusive are allowed through the blocker while all others are prevented from being displayed - and the way to get your adverts on the list is to pay the company money for the privilege, providing Eyeo with its revenue stream.
'The Hamburg court decision is an important one because it sets a precedent that may help us avoid additional lawsuits and expenses defending what we feel is an obvious consumer right: giving people the ability to control their own screens by letting them block annoying ads and protect their privacy,
' added Eyeo's Ben Williams of the court ruling in a blog post