Why ad-blockers, ad-skippers and other user-control technologies are legal

EFF’s Fred von Lohmann explains with a great deal of clarity and precision why MediaFire is out of its mind to send legal threats over a Firefox plugin, SkipScreen, that auto-clicks through its ad-screens. It comes down to this: your browser is your browser, and you can auto-click, rewrite, block, display or manipulate what shows up on your screen as much as you like and it’s no one’s business but your own.

Yes, Boing Boing is ad-supported and yes, SkipScreen is an ad-blocker. So what? We’re not dumb enough to think that just because we’ve decided to earn our living from ads means that you have to give up your rights to control what’s on your screen. That’s what principle is: what you believe in even when it’s not convenient.

MediaFire’s arguments to the contrary are entirely misguided. First, they suggest that SkipScreen somehow lets users “steal bandwidth.” That’s wrong on the facts: SkipScreen just automates the exact process that the user would otherwise have to do themselves in order download a file. No “extra downloads,” no additional bandwidth for MediaFire. Second, MediaFire argues that the use of SkipScreen violates MediaFire’s “acceptable use policy.” That’s wrong on the law: users who follow a link to a MediaFire download never click-through or otherwise agree to any “acceptable use policy,” so there’s no contract here that prohibits a user from using whatever browser she likes (including whatever plug-ins she likes) to download a file.

Sure, MediaFire probably would prefer that we all sit, transfixed, while they display ads for us, just like certain Hollywood executives wish we would never leave the couch or hit FFWD when commercials run during our favorite TV shows, and certain websites wish they could ban Firefox ad-blockers. Fortunately, there’s nothing in the law that says that by simply visiting a website, I give up the right to control my desktop.

It’s My Browser, and I’ll Auto-Click if I Want To