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Ad blocking litigation soon?

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday September 15, 2007 )

A few days back I wrote about the potential threat to publisher revenues through ad blocking applications, particularly since the launch of a highly effective application for Firefox that’s getting a lot of coverage and consequently downloads. Legal experts are now speculating when the first law suit against such applications will occur.

You can view the post about the Firefox ad-blocking plugin here.

According to the executive director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, he “absolutely would expect to see litigation in this area” if ad-blockers become so prevalent they start making a sizeable dent in publishers’ revenues according to this article on CNET.

An issue I didn’t consider in relation to the legal aspect is these blockers modify a publisher’s page without publisher permission; and there have been instances in the past where creators of such ad-blocking software have been threatened with copyright lawsuits based on that point.

In my opinion the problem with a legal bloodbath is it tends to rally people to a cause – it’s a David vs. Goliath type of scenario and can backfire; even though the consumers of free online content would be essentially cutting of their collective nose to spite their face.

Rather than litigation, The Interactive Advertising Bureau would prefer to work with software developers and consumers to come up with a compromise, which is probably the wisest move. I really can’t see the major ad networks sitting on their hands for too long on the ad-blocking issue and I think they will take evasive action based on technology if the threat builds.

My beef with ad blockers remains – if you want to visit a site and take advantage of the free and valuable content available; being subjected to a few ads scattered about the page isn’t a big ask by any means. If you don’t like the ads or there are too many, people need to simply vote with their clicks and go elsewhere – the publisher will get the message soon enough.

Of course, my view is a little biased for obvious reasons; but I imagine consumers might change their tune if ad-blocking became so over the top that suddenly the high quality freebie access they had before began to disappear. A middle ground will be found; it’s in everyone’s interests that it is.



 

 
2 comments for Ad blocking litigation soon?
  1. This kind of legal response is just a knee jerk reaction to a threat to an established business model.

    We’ve seen it happen with music labels resisting MP3’s. Yes piracy was and is a concern, but the convenience of MP3’s is the real reason they are so popular. It doesn’t make sense to block an innovation that makes your product more attractive.

    We’ve seen it with TV broadcasters and VCR/TIVO. They already have enough product placement and infomercials – give up on the greed factor already and let the ad breaks go (or make them so short that they are not worthwhile skipping).

    Fundamentally humans don’t like change and it is unbelievably arrogant of any company or industry group to think that they can prevent behvioural trends by legislation.
    When did legislation become a substitute for innovation?

    Just my 2c

    Comment by Richard Powell — September 21, 2007 @ 1:09 am

  2. Thanks for your input Richard. I’m not sure but I think “I’ll sue” are the first words taught to USA kids – no offense intended to our American friends :).

    Still, I can see both sides here – if ads became widely blocked, that would have some rather drastic effects and we’re all busy enough trying to deal with spammers and other bottom dwellers without having this sort of thing to contend with too. In between it all, we try to crank out some content of value too. People can vote with their clicks – too many ads, there’s plenty of sites out there that may be more to their liking.

    Comment by Michael Bloch — September 21, 2007 @ 8:19 am

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