German news publisher Axel Springer has always taken a hard line on advertising. It has sued ad block developers, barred ad block users from Bild.de, was the last German news publisher to let Google use snippets for free, and now it's back in court again.
TechCrunch reports that Axel Springer is targeting the developers of the iOS9 ad-block app Blockr.
Specifically, explains the law firm representing Blockr, Axel Springer wanted to prohibit Blockr’s developers from being able to “offer, advertise, maintain and distribute the service” which can be used today to block ads on http://www.welt.de, including the website’s mobile version.
Blockr’s lawyers argued in a hearing on November 19 that its software is legal and should be allowed to continue, and that it’s the user’s choice to use an ad blocker.
In the hearing, the court seemed to agree with the startup, and pointed out that Axel Springer has other options for handling how it wants to deal with ad blockers. For example, it could re-use its prior tactics that involve locking out users from a website when it detects that the visitor is using ad blocking software.
The final ruling, however, is not until December 10.
Considering that two similar rulings have already been handed down in Germany this year, including one where Axel Springer was the plaintiff, the odds of the media giant winning this time around range from slim to a snowball's chance in hell.
But legal precedence is not enough to discourage Axel Springer, although it has made them craftier. Rather than directly sue the developers of Blockr, Axel Springer first sought an injunction at the district court of Stuttgart. Arguing that the software was illegally obstructing its digital content, Axel Springer asked the court to ban the app from being used in Germany.
It was at the hearing on 19 November that Lampmann, Haberkamm, & Rosenbaum, the lawyers for Blockr's developers, successfully argued that there was no immediate need for an injunction.
The case is still ongoing, but it doesn't look good for Axel Springer.
Edit: But perhaps that doesn't matter to the news publisher. What if this simply a bid to harass developers into avoiding this type of app? (Fighting a lawsuit like this can get expensive.)
In any case, the media giant has other means to continue the fight.
About a month ago Axel Springer ran a pilot test where it erected a barrier on Bild.de, one of its news sites, which banned ad-block users from visiting the site without either disabling their ad blocker or getting a subscription.
According to Financial Times, this pilot test succeeded in reducing the proportion of readers using ad blockers from 23% to a single digit. Axel Springer hasn't revealed whether revenues increased, although FT did report that the site had shown an addition 3 million "marketable" page views to visitors in the first two weeks of the pilot.
"The results are beyond our expectations,” said Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner at the time. “Over two-thirds of the users concerned switched off their adblocker."
He added: “Our experience makes us optimistic that adblockers will not develop into a game-changer for the sector.”
Axel Springer isn't the only publisher to take a hostile approach to ad block users. The Washington Post started testing a similar block in September, and just last week Yahoo started blocking some users from checking their email.
image by n0nick