Newspaper Publishers Fire Off a Cease and Desist Letter to Ad-Blocking Browser

Turns out the newspapers aren't so keen on Brave's plan of blocking their ads by default.

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Apr 9 2016, 3:00pm

Brendan Eich. Image: YouTube

A collection of newspaper publishers including those behind the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal is threatening to sue the startup behind the ad-blocking Brave browser. In a cease and desist letter addressed to Brave Software CEO Brendan Eich, the embattled software luminary who famously created JavaScript in 10 days and co-founded the Mozilla project, the publishers declare that, "Brave's plan to replace our clients' paid advertising content with its own advertising violates the law, and the undersigned publishers intend to fully enforce their rights."

To recap a bit, the general pitch of the Brave browser, which is now in its public testing phase, is in providing users with the means to have their ad-blocking cake and eat it too, so to speak. The browser will do the work of external plugins like AdBlock itself, while offering publishers/content creators a revenue stream generated by Brave's own ads. So: Brave blocks ads, replaces those ads with its own ads, and then gives some money (55 percent) to whoever would have normally depended on revenue from the initial, blocked ads. It's a new paradigm as much as it is a new product or technology.

By stripping away outside ads, Brave promises not just faster page-load times, but improved privacy safeguards as well. As ads are trimmed away, so too are web trackers. You can see why the newspaper publishers are upset.

The letter continues:

Your plan to use our content to sell your advertising is indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website. Your public statements demonstrate clearly that you intend to harness and exploit the content of all the publishers on the Web to sell your own advertising. "We can provide access to all of the top publishers through a single channel with guaranteed 'share of voice,'" Brave's website claims. "This combination of better targeting and first-look access to all of the premium placements our users browse is something that no one else can provide." There's a simple reason "no one else" is purporting to "provide" all the content on the Web in one place for its own profit, without investing a penny in creating that content: everyone else has recognized that it would be blatantly illegal for one company to hijack all the content on the Web for its own benefit

Brave's rebuttal isn't terribly convincing. In a statement to ComputerWorld, the company asserts that "Brave is the solution [to ad-blocking], not the enemy." The point being that people are ad-blocking anyway via whatever browser/plugin they're currently using, so Brave is really just recapturing that otherwise lost revenue by inserting its own ads into the blank spaces where the blocked ads would have appeared had no blocking occurred at all. Phew.

OK? That line of reasoning still seems a bit tortured. As a consumer, I'm not quite following the part where I'm supposed to be totally chill with Brave's replacement ads when I can still have no ads at all here in Chrome.

In the statement, Brave goes on to argue that it has free reign to do whatever it pleases with the pages that its browser renders. The logic goes that browsers do not actually republish content. They merely present it according to their own rules. Developers build web pages around browsers in the same way that software engineers write programs around operating systems. Brave is then just another content platform, but with some peculiar limitations. Deal with it.

Of course, for Brave to work at all, it needs the newspaper publishers probably more than they need it. Brave needs users for its master plan to work at all. What happens when the web's major content providers just decide to block themselves entirely from Brave? I suppose it would be Brendan Eich's turn to send a cease and desist.