US copyright act is claimed to be used against ad blocking

16 August 2017

An event on 10 August has stirred a renewed attention to the ad blocking issue. The blocking side accused a company of using US copyright law to push through its ads.

What exactly happened?

A domain named “functionalclam.com” was excluded from the EasyList – a popular register of domains used by ad blockers – after a DMCA takedown request had been made.

• DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, an act that protects copyright infringement on the Internet.
• DMCA takedown request is generally understood as a request of a content owner to remove their content from the source infringing owner’s rights.

Typically, such a request is used for deleting links to the pirated music or movies. And so, the domain owner’s move raised a question if the Act can be applicable for domain names at all. For ad blockers, this could mean an ultimate inability to use domain lists. Domain names, however, do not fall under the Act, as US Copyright Office states.

Later, the domain functionalclam.com appeared to be owned by Admiral – a company fighting the ad blocking. It contains the message saying it is used by publishers for controlling access to their copyrighted content.

Initial message on the unblocked domain

Company’s CEO Dan Rua has made an official statement, which was supposed to explain why the DMCA was used.

He states the domain is used not for ad serving, but for the access control to copyrighted content. To put it simply, they work on mechanisms for publishers to ask or motivate users to whitelist the website or pay for accessing it. As Admiral explains, DMCA is applicable in terms of Act’s part about “technological measure circumvention”. Thus, functionalclam.com being blocked means deactivating a control tool of content owners.
Official comment of EasyList on this states, if it’s a circumvention issue, the domain had to be removed even before the DMCA request.

Still, the problem exists

In the past, there have already been a discussion on applying DMCA to the Adblock Plus. Say, a website starts using anti-adblocking tools. If Adblock Plus tries to roll out a countermeasure, theoretically it makes such step a circumvention of a tool used for content control.

Main message on Admiral’s website

The main question now is whether the situation with “functionalclam.com” will become a paved way for other websites or actual advertising companies to file copyright complaints and fight the ad blocking.

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