Are “ad walls” legally protected?

As we wrote previously, the German media company Axel Springer has taken an aggressive stance against ad blockers and wants to prevent ad free reading of its site, even to the point of legally threatening a young YouTube tech blogger who had created a video tutorial on circumventing the Springer “ad wall.” Tobias Richter, the creator of the Tobis_Tricks YouTube channel took down his offending clip, but has so far refused to back down, even going so far as to run a successful crowd-funding campaign to raise the 7,000 Euros he may have to pay as a fine if Springer does sue him as threatened.

This week, Richter took the fight to a new level by requesting a German court to legally determine if his actions did indeed violate German copyright law by circumventing a copy-protection technology. The content at is not encrypted, and the ad-wall itself is relatively easy to bypass using standard ad blocking techniques of preventing certain domains and scripts from loading on a client browser. Axel Springer was successful in getting a court in its home town of Hamburg to issue a cease-and-desist order against Eyeo, the makers of Ad Block Plus, from publicly discussing circumvention methods for the Bild ad wall on its forums, but legal opinion remains divided.

Axel Springer has repeatedly failed in its efforts to get ad blocking outlawed in Germany, but may be on stronger ground with this case, by focusing on copyright issues, not commercial interference. But the contradiction Bild, and other publishers face when encountering ad blocking continues to complexify attempts to deal with it. As publishers, they want all the traffic they can get, but now they want to only allow the “right” kind of traffic. They want to communicate as loudly and widely as possible, but at the same time prevent certain elements of the audience from receiving it. Not an easy circle to square, so they create an ad wall, but make it relatively porous to avoid false positives and to prevent too precipitous a drop in readership.

Bild has been touting some measure of success in reducing the percentage of its readers ad blocking, but as Eyeo investor Tim Schumacher pointed out on Twitter, Bild’s Alexa traffic score has dropped significantly since they erected an ad wall:

Axel Springer may ultimately win the legal argument that ad walls can be enforced through the courts, at least in Germany, but it is far from proven that they make any economic sense.


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