April 7, 2016 Last Updated 1:05 pm

Group of newspapers sends cease and desist letter to new browser Brave Software

NAA group accuses new browser of stealing the content of newspapers and replacing the existing ads with their own, sold programmatically

A roup of newspapers, including Dow Jones, Tribune Publishing, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, has sent a letter to the start-up Brave Software accusing the company of stealing their content in order to sell advertising.

“Brave’s proposed business model crosses legal and ethical boundaries, and should be viewed as illegal and deceptive by the courts, consumers and those who value the creation of content,” said Newspaper Association of America CEO, David Chavern.

Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, is behind the new browser, available for Windows and OS X, as well as Android and iOS for mobile. The new browser is based on Google’s open source code Chromium, but the most important thing to know is that the browser plans to replace the existing ads, then substitute new ads sold programmatically. The newspaper publishers are, apparently, not enthusiastic supporters of the idea.

“Brave Software, Inc. (“Brave”), a company you founded, has announced that it intends to launch a browser and mobile applications that will display publishers’ content but replace publishers’ advertising with advertising that Brave sells for its own profit,” the letter begins. “You are hereby notified 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.”

“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,” the letter said.

The full group of newspapers were Advance Local, BH Media Group (Berkshire Hathaway), Calkins Media Inc., Digital First Media, Dow Jones, Gannett, GateHouse Media (New Media), Journal Media (soon to be owned by Gannett), Landmark Media, Lee Enterprises, McClatchy, Morris Publishing, the NYT, Newsday, Schurz Communications, Tribune Publoishing, and The Washington Post.

Eich is a bit of a controversial figure in Silicon Valley, forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla after it was revealed that he donated funds to the California Proposition 8 campaign. That revelation led to calls for boycotts of the company, followed by counter claims that any boycott would be against the principal of free speech. In the end, Eich resigned.

Now, Eich’s new company is butting heads with newspaper companies, but this time it is saying that those companies have it wrong, releasing a statement to refute the claims of the newspaper group:

The NAA sent a letter to Brave Software that is filled with false assertions. The NAA has fundamentally misunderstood Brave. Brave is the solution, not the enemy.

The NAA’s letter to Brave Software asserts that any browser that blocks and replaces ads on the browser user’s device performs “unauthorized republication” of Web content. This is false on its face, since browsers do not “republish”, serve, syndicate, or distribute content across the Internet or to any computer other than the one on which they run.

Browsers are the end-point for secure connections, the user agent that actually mediates and combines all the pieces of content, including third-party ads and first-party publisher news stories. Browsers can block, rearrange, mash-up and otherwise make use of any content from any source. If it were the case that Brave’s browsers perform “republication”, then so too does Safari’s Reader mode, and the same goes for any ad-blocker-equipped browser, or the Links text-only browser, or screen readers for the visually impaired.

The NAA letter also falsely asserts that Brave will share an “unspecified percentage of revenue”, when our revenue share pie chart has been public and fixed from our first preview release in January. We give the lion’s share (pun intended), up to 70% of ad revenue, to websites, keeping only 15% for ourselves and paying 15% to our users.

We sympathize with publishers concerned about the damage that pure ad blockers do to their ability to pay their bills via advertising revenue. However, this problem long pre-dates Brave. We categorically reject the claim that browsers perform “republication”, and we repeat that Brave has a sound and systematic plan to financially reward publishers. We aim to outperform the invasive third-party ads that we block, with our better, fewer, and privacy-preserving ads.

Finally, we note that malvertisement has gotten onto the websites of the New York Times and the BBC recently through the ill-designed, unregulated, and poorly-delegated third-party advertising technology ecosystem. Truly, this tracker-based ad-tech ecosystem is what is damaging the brand value of content publishers and driving users to adopt ad-blocking software. Brave blocks and replaces only third-party ads and trackers. Our system thus actually repairs the damage that publishers have carelessly allowed their ad partners (and partners’ partners, to the seventh degree of separation) do to their trademarked brands and names.

Make no mistake: this NAA letter is the first shot in a war on all ad-blockers, not just on Brave. Though the NAA never reached out to us, we would be happy to sit down with them for an opportunity to discuss how the Brave solution can be a win win. We will fight alongside all citizens of the Internet who deserve and demand a better deal than they are getting from today’s increasingly abusive approach to Web advertising.

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