Electricmonk

Ferry Boender

Programmer, DevOpper, Open Source enthusiast.

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Why the EasyList DMCA takedown notice is perfectly valid (and fair)

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

There's a story going around about a DMCA takedown notice filed against the adblocking list EasyList, causing them to remove a domain from one of their filters. As usual, lots of indignation and pitchfork-mobbing followed. It seems though, that few people understand what exactly is going on here.

Here's a brief history of ad blocking on the web:

  1. Publishers start putting ads on their websites.
  2. Publishers start putting annoying and dangerous ads on their websites.
  3. Adblockers appear that filter out ads.
  4. Cat-and-mouse game where publishers try to circumvent adblockers and adblockers blocking their attempts at circumvention.
  5. Publishers start putting up paywalls and competely blocking browsers that have adblocking.
  6. Adblockers start circumventing paywalls and measures put in place by publishers to ban people that are blocking ads.

This whole EasyList DMCA thing is related to point 5 and 6.

Admiral is a company that provides services to implement point 5: block people completely from websites if they block ads.

Let's get something clear: I'm extremely pro-adblocking. Publishers have time and again shown that they can't handle the responsibility of putting decent ads on websites. It always devolves into shitty practices such as auto-playing audio, flashing epilepsy bullshit, popups, malware infested crap, etc. Anything to get those few extra ad impressions and ad quality be damned! This has happened again and again and again in every possible medium from television to newspapers. So you can pry my adblocker from my cold dead hands and publishers can go suck it.

BUT I'm also of the firm belief that publishers have every right to completely ban me from their contents if I'm not willing to look at ads. It's their contents and it's their rules. If they want to block me, I'm just fine with that. I probably don't care about their content all that much anyway.

Now, for the DMCA notice.

A commit to EasyList added functionalclam.com to EasyList. According to Admiral, functionalclam.com is a domain used to implement point 5: blocking users from websites if they're using adblockers. According to this lawyer:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") makes it illegal to circumvent technical measures (e.g., encryption, copy protection) that prevent access to copyrighted materials, such as computer software or media content. The DMCA also bans the distribution of products or services that are designed to carry out circumvention of technical measures that prevent either access to or copying of copyrighted materials.

Since the functionalclam.com domain is a technical means to prevent access to copyrighted materials, the DMCA takedown notice is completely valid. And actually, it's a pretty honorable one. From the DMCA takedown notice itself (scroll down):

>>> What would be the best solution for the alleged infringement? Are there specific changes the other person can make other than removal?

Full repository takedown [of EasyList] should not be necessary. Instead, the repository owner can remove functionalclam[.]com from the file in question and not replace with alternative circumvention attempts.

EasyList themselves agree that their list should not be used to circumvent such access control:

If it is a Circumvention/Adblock-Warning adhost, it should be removed from Easylist even without the need for a DMCA request.

So put down your pitchforks because:

  • This has nothing to do with ad blocking, it has to do with circumventing access control.
  • Adblocking is not under attack,
  • The DMCA notice was not abuse of the DMCA.
  • Pulbishers have every right to ban adblock users from their content.
  • Y'all need to start growing some skepticism. When you read clickbaity titles such as "Ad blocking is under attack", you should immediately be suspicious. In fact, always be suspicious.

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