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U.S. newspapers threaten to sue Brave browser maker over ad-blocking scheme

Gregg Keizer | April 11, 2016
Brave Software asserts it can 'make use of any content from any source,' and replace news sites' ads with its own if it wants.

More than a dozen newspaper publishers last Thursday threatened the maker of the new Brave browser with legal action if Brave Software goes ahead with plans to replace websites' ads with its own.

"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 [emphasis in original]," lawyers for 17 publishers wrote in a letter to Brave Software's founder and CEO, Brendan Eich.

The publishers represented more than 1,700 U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and those in the Gannett chain.

Brave, the browser launched as a preview in January, was built by a team led by Eich, the creator of JavaScript and formerly CTO at Mozilla -- which develops Firefox -- and for a brief stint in 2014, Mozilla's CEO. Eich resigned from Mozilla after a storm of protest over contributions he made in 2008 to supporters of California's Proposition 8, a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.

The browser's revenue model, Eich explained nearly three months ago, was based on ad blocking. Brave will scrub websites of most of their ads and all tracking, then replace those now-empty slots with ads it sells. Seventy percent of the revenue from Brave's ad sales would be shared with publishers (55%) and users (15%). The latter will be able to turn that money -- in Bitcoin form -- over to their favorite sites or keep it. Brave will retain 15%, with the remaining 15% going to advertising partners.

The publishers said that was indistinguishable from theft, and in the cease-and-desist letter, promised to take legal action if Brave persisted.

"We stand ready to enforce all legal rights to protect our trademarks and copyrighted content and to prevent you from deceiving consumers and unlawfully appropriating our work in the service of your business," the letter stated. "We reserve the right to seek all remedies for this infringement, including but not limited to statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work. We believe your planned activities will also constitute unfair competition and misappropriation under relevant federal, state and common law. By engaging in Brave's plan of advertising replacement, Brave is liable for breach of contract, unauthorized access to our websites, unfair competition, and other causes of action."

There's a good reason why no one has attempted to do what Brave plans -- block sites' ads and replace them with its own -- the lawyers asserted. "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," they said.


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