German Supreme Court dismisses Axel Springer lawsuit, says ad blocking is legal

Germany’s Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit yesterday from Axel Springer against Eyeo, the company behind AdBlock Plus.

The European publishing giant (which acquired Business Insider in 2015) argued that ad blocking, as well as the business model where advertisers pay to be added to circumvent the white list, violated Germany’s competition law. Axel Springer won a partial victory in 2016, when a lower court ruled that it shouldn’t have to pay for white listing.

However, the Supreme Court has now overturned that decision. In the process, it declared that ad-blocking and Eyeo’s white list are both legal. (German speakers can read the court’s press release.)

After the ruling, Eyeo sent me the following statement from Ben Williams, its head of operations and communications:

Today, we are extremely pleased with the ruling from Germany’s Supreme Court in favor of Adblock Plus/eyeo and against the German media publishing company Axel Springer. This ruling confirms — just as the regional courts in Munich and Hamburg stated previously — that people have the right in Germany to block ads. This case had already been tried in the Cologne Regional Court, then in the Regional Court of Appeals, also in Cologne — with similar results. It also confirms that Adblock Plus can use a whitelist to allow certain acceptable ads through. Today’s Supreme Court decision puts an end to Axel Springer’s claim that they be treated differently for the whitelisting portion of Adblock Plus’ business model.

Axel Springer, meanwhile, described ad blocking as “an attack on the heart of the free media” and said it would appeal to the country’s Constitutional Court.

Ad-blocking browser Brave signs up Dow Jones Media Group as a partner

It looks like at least one major news publisher is on-board with Brave, the ad-blocking web browser founded by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

Brave Software and Dow Jones Media Group announced today they will be partnering in a deal that will bring Media Group content (specifically, full access to Barrons.com or a premium MarketWatch newsletter) to “a limited number of users who download the Brave browser on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

In addition, Barron’s and MarketWatch are becoming verified publishers on Brave’s Basic Attention Token (BAT) platform, a blockchain-based system that will allow consumers and eventually advertisers to pay publishers. (Brave had a hugely successful initial coin offering last year.)

And the companies said they will be working together to experiment with different ways to use blockchain technology in media and advertising.

“As global digital publishers, we believe it is important to continually explore new and emerging technologies that can be used to build quality customer experiences,” said Barron’s Senior Vice President Daniel Bernard in the announcement.

To be clear, the partnership just involves the Dow Jones Media Group, not the larger Dow Jones organization (which is best-known for publishing The Wall Street Journal). And the language that the companies are using suggests that they’re very much approaching this as an experiment.

But it’s certainly a dramatic change in tone from the way most publishers talk about ad-blockers. In fact, a group of newspapers (including the Journal) published a letter two years stating that Brave’s business model was “indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website.”

Brave recently announced the launch of a referral program that rewards creators with BAT when they convince their fans to switch over to the browser. The company also said it has 2 million monthly active users.

Update: The headline and story have been rewritten to clarify the distinction between the Dow Jones Media Group and the larger Dow Jones organization.