19 January 2022CopyrightAlex Baldwin

Adblock developer beats HTML copyright suit

The company behind the online ad-blocking extension Adblock Plus has convinced a German court to uphold HTML open standards in a copyright suit targetting the service.

Eyeo released the open-source browser extension in 2010 and has since grown to become one of the most popular third-party browser features and is used by more than 700 million users worldwide, according to Statista.

The company announced that it had prevailed in a lawsuit concerning whether HTML can be subject to copyright infringement in a blog post yesterday, 18 January.

The lawsuit, brought by Axel Springer, the German publishing company behind Bild, Die Welt and Fakt, argued that HTML code used to construct web pages should be protected under copyright law.

Eyeo claimed this would have made the function of browser extensions such as Adblock, which alter the appearance of a website for the end-user by concealing adverts, liable for copyright infringement.

It claimed that Axel Springer’s lawsuit, if successful, would have made many modern browser features “illegal” unless express permission was granted from individual website publishers.

These features include privacy and anti-tracking technologies, website language translation features, and accessibility utilities for blind and handicapped readers as well as ad blockers.

Kai Recke, general counsel for Eyeo said: “This legal argument simply went too far. HTML is a widely adopted open standard that underpins most websites, and shifting the burden of permission to users and developers is clearly unreasonable.

“We are pleased that the court agrees, and we feel honoured and privileged to be able to take up this legal fight on behalf of the interests of all Internet participants everywhere. This decision also preempts needless court battles elsewhere.”

The Hamburg court decision establishes a “limit” to copyright after which the website author can no longer assert any right of retention, which exists between the “code provision” level and the “execution” level when accessed by a user through a browser.

Eyeo also argued that a contrary ruling could have made users who have installed HTML-altering browser features subject to copyright infringement. It also held that developers of these features could be liable to pay damages “retroactively” for the past three years.

This decision marks the sixteenth time in which Eyeo has successfully defended the World Wide Web Consortium’s HTML open standard, the company claims.

“We believe it is our duty as a ‘net citizen to fight these legal battles on behalf of the interests of all Internet participants everywhere,” said Till Faida founder CEO of Eyeo.

An Axel Springer spokesperson said the Hamburg Regional Court had contradicted an earlier ruling of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court and the company would appeal the judgment.

“Ad blockers change the programming codes of websites and thus directly affect - in our opinion, in violation of copyright law - with the legally protected offerings of media companies.

“In the long term, this not only damages a key financing basis for digital journalism but also threatens open access to opinion-forming information on the internet,” said the spokesperson.

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