German media giant fights iOS 9 ad blockers with legal action

Axel Springer sign

German media giant Axel Springer, which owns major European newspapers and magazines like BILD and Die Welt, is fighting back against iOS 9 ad blockers with legal action. In an attempt to prevent them from being distributed to iOS users, the company is taking developers to court.

The creators of Blockr, one of many content blockers built for iOS 9, say that “Axel Springer’s WELTN24 subsidiary took them to court in an attempt to stop the development and distribution of the Blockr software,” reports TechCrunch.

It is claimed Axel Springer wants to prevent Blockr’s developers from being able to “offer, advertise, maintain and distribute the service,” but Blockr’s lawyers argue that the app is legal, and they are fighting to keep it alive.

In a November 19 hearing, the court appeared to side with Blockr’s creators, and rejected a request for a preliminary injunction against the app. The court also noted that Axel Springer could use other tactics to dissuade readers from using ad blockers.

For instance, Axel Springer has previously blocked access to users if it detects they are using ad blocking software, and invited them to pay a monthly subscription fee instead.

According to the company, this approach has been successful, with the percentage of users employing ad blocker software dropping from 23 percent into single digits when presented with a choice of disabling it or paying a fee.

It’s unclear if Axel Springer has targeted any other iOS developers at this point, but this isn’t the first time the company has fought ad blockers; it was recently beaten in a legal battle with Eyeo, maker of the Adblock Plus browser extension.

But that won’t put the company off this fight. It told TechCrunch in a statement:

Axel Springer SE is demonstrating its position regarding ad blocking in various legal initiatives: Ad blocking interferes with the constitutionally protected position of publishing houses and endangers the refinancing­ – and hence, in the long run, the existence – ­of professional online journalism. We are currently not commenting on the number and status of ongoing legal proceedings.

Axel Springer isn’t the only publishers that wants ad blockers to be killed, but it’s one of just a small handful that’s actively trying to fight them. Others include The Washington Post, which redirects users to a subscription page when it detects ad blocking software, and U.K. broadcasters ITV and Channel 4.

However, Blockr co-founders Arno Appenzeller and Tim Poller argue that their intention is simply to “give users a choice to what they see while browsing the web.”

Do you use an ad blocker on your iOS device, and do you think they should be allowed?