The Munich Regional Court has ruled AdBlock Plus and its ad-blocking software to be in-line with antitrust and anticompetitive laws following action from two German publishers.
Media firms ProSiebenSat.1 and IP Deutschland had attempted to sue AdBlock owner Eyeo on the basis of its product, now available as a browser and browser extension, blocking ads on their respective web properties.
The case was also weighted by claims that AdBlock’s ‘Acceptable Ads Policy’ allowed firms to pay a fee in order to have their inventory displayed to users.
But it was bad news for the two publishers, as AdBlock made it two legal triumphs in as many months following a similar claim by German publishers Die Zeit and Handelsblatt at a court in Hamburg.
Blocking ads (and appeals)
With over 400 million users worldwide, AdBlock’s ‘Plus’ extension for eradicating most forms of advertorial from the web has attracted a great deal of controversy since making a name for itself.
The company now has an extension supported by many of the world’s most-popular browsers, including Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Russia’s Yandex, and a dedicated browser for Android.
Despite only being live for a week, the company says its new Android solution has already racked up 220,000 downloads, with an iOS version on the way.
While some web users have leapt at the offering of an ad-free internet, the company’s rise to prominence has not gone down well with publishers in Europe.
Ben Williams, a spokesman for AdBlock, told BBC that ProSiebenSat.1 and IP Deutschland’s case marked the fourth time publishers had brought legal proceedings against the start-up, and the “biggest one it had faced to date”.
The issue at hand
Where the courts were concerned, the most-recent case was flawed on two main points: the fact that users have the option to download the software, making it a non-compulsory addition to their browsing experience, and that AdBlock is not popular enough to be deemed a threat to publisher ad revenues.
While the former cannot be contested, it’s the latter point that may cause a great deal of disgruntlement from the ad-tech industry. Objection has already been voiced by ProSiebenSat.1 and IP Deutschland, who are weighing up their options ahead of a possible appeal.
The firm is also awaiting the verdict of a similar case from publisher Axel Springer at a court in Cologne.
From the perspective of the publishers that have taken legal action, AdBlock is certainly popular enough to make an impact on their industry.
Research from PageFair and Adobe points to a 70% rise in the use of ad-blocking software last year, which has helped AdBlock to 50 million monthly users. According to reports, the company is also generating revenue from a ‘white list’ of advertisers, featuring names such as Amazon and Google, who are still allowed to display their inventory.
A new appeal came to nothing on Wednesday (May 27), as the Munich court insisted that AdBlock did not have enough dominance to threaten antitrust laws, set to promote fair competition among businesses for the benefit of web users.
Work to be done
Although some corners of the advertising industry maintain that AdBlock is not promoting fair practice, others believe the popularity of its system highlights the work that needs to be done in improving consumer perception around ads.
Speaking to PerformanceIN, Justin Taylor, UK managing director of video ad firm Teads, believes web users have every right to demand more out of the companies that support publishers financially.
“The ad industry has an important role in keeping web content free, but it must get better at engaging, not interrupting and enraging consumers. That means introducing new formats which web users find less invasive, designing more creative ads and giving consumers a degree of control.”
His comments follow claims from Berit Block, of programmatic ad software group DataXu, that it is up to the advertisers to help - rather than annoy - the people they engage with.