March 26, 2017

More on Ad-Blocking

I’m on the road today, so I don’t have a long post for you. (Good news: I’m in Rome. Bad news: It’s Rome, New York.)

Instead, let me point you to an interesting exchange about copyright and ad-blocking software on my course blog, in which “Archer” opens with a discussion of copyright and advertising revenue, and Harlan Yu responds by asking whether distributing Firefox AdBlock is a contributory infringement.

There’s plenty of interesting writing on the course blog. Check it out!

UPDATE (Feb. 28): Another student, “Unsuspecting Innocent,” has more on this topic.


  1. What about popup blockers?

  2. Yes, I would think the same logic could also be applied to popup blockers, since both have similar intents.

  3. It is also appropriate to apply strict rules to the rest of the transaction, which might alter advertiser behavior. First, storage of cookies or any other processing not inherently required to display the add constitutes theft of service, unless there is already a contract in place allowing such use. I doubt any advertiser has such a contract with me. The act of viewing their ad would not constitute such a contract.

    Similarly, any information that I publish (e.g. cookies) is subject to MY copyright terms, which by default are that they may not copy it or make derivative works. So they cannot process this information without my permission.

    Many newspapers, etc. have a login process with terms of use that constitute a contract of sorts, and do cover these issues in the agreement. So the people most familiar with copyright issues have thought this one through. Most of the advertisers have not.

    In a different direction you also must deal with the extent of permissible modification. HTML lacks a presentation specification. Every image is by definition optional, with the “alt” item permitted as a substitute. CSS adds some specification, but still has many aspects that are advisory. I know that very few browsers actually ensure that the point size requested is the point size on the physical screen being viewed. With projector displays this is both impossible and undesirable. Only when you get to Flash or PDF is there any really strict and unambiguous definition of how the document is intended to be displayed.

    Since a browser such as LYNX is a valid and correct web browser (albeit text only) I could argue that I have adequately complied with their display instructions with an ad blocker. They could have used an less ambiguous format, such as Flash or PDF, if they were concerned about retaining their ad.

    Some sites do this. The “flash only” site is an annoyance to those (like me) who refuse to permit flash input, but it quite successfully meets their desire to control the viewing experience to a greater degree than is specified for HTML browsers.

    I also pre-emptively eliminate (via a rewriting proxy) any Javascript that attempts to perform any form of I/O other than display functions. Any such activity is clearly an attempted theft of service, and in the absence of a contract I do not permit it.

    An analysis of the impact of strict interpretation of copyright to the use of the web should include analysis of how these actions would also affect all the parties involved.

  4. As far as I am concerned, use of my computer and bandwidth to display your advertising without my consent, or any other unsolicited bulk communications, is theft of services. Spam especially but not solely. 😛