JavaScript founder Brendan Eich's company could face legal action

Brave Software, a new venture by JavaScript founder Brendan Eich, has been put on notice that its plan to block ads in its browser and replace them could place the company in legal hot water. But Brave countered that the objectors were filled with "false assertions."

A cease-and-desist letter sent to Brave by 17 companies representing 1,200 newspapers and some of the top websites, including The New York Times, Dow Jones, and Gannett, objects to Brave's plan. The letter was sent under the auspices of the Newspaper Association of America.

"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," the letter, dated April 7, states.

The letter continues, "Your plan to use our content to sell your advertising is indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own Web site. 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."

Brave, though, said the association has "fundamentally misunderstood" the company. "Brave is the solution, not the enemy."

The Brave browser, now in development, would automatically block ads. The letter, Brave said, asserts that any browser that blocks and replaces ads 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 endpoint to secure connections, with the user agent mediating content, including third-party ads, Brave continued. Browsers can block, rearrange, and otherwise make use of content from any source, the company added. Brave also rejected the notion it was being unclear about sharing revenues, saying as much as 70 percent would be shared. Brave, of which Eich is president and CEO, pledges to develop a "better" ads business and share 55 percent of revenue with content publishers. Users also would get 15 percent of revenues.

But attorney David Chavern, president and CEO of the association, objected to this proposal. "No business model is going to work if it says, you guys write the content and I'll just take it and sell ads around it and give you guys 55 percent because that's what I want to do."

Signatories "expressly decline to participate in any way in Brave's supposed business model," the letter states. "We explicitly reject any compensation or consideration Brave plans to offer to us as part of its ad-blocking and ad-replacing scheme, and we refuse to accept any 'site wallet' that you propose to create for our supposed benefit. In addition, you are not authorized to use our names, trademarks, and logos in any way in connection with the promotion or operation of your business." The participants reserve the right to seek remedies for infringement, including damages of as much as $150,000 for each article that has ads changed.

In fact, if Brave pursues its plan, the result could be multiple lawsuits from content providers, Chavern said. For now, association members will wait to hear back from Brave before deciding any further action.

Brave said it sympathizes with publishers concerned about damage from pure ad blockers. "However, this problem long pre-dates Brave." Brave has a sound and systematic plan to financially reward publishers, the company said. "We aim to outperform the invasive third-party ads that we block, with our better, fewer, and privacy-preserving ads." Brave only blocks and replaces third-party ads and trackers and fights malvertisements, Brave said.

Other signatories to the letter include: The Washington Post, The McClatchy Company, Newsday, Tribune Publishing, Landmark Media Enterprises, Morris Publishing Group, Gatehouse Media/New Media Investment group, Journal Media Group, Schurz Communications and Lee Enterprises, Advance Local, Calkins Media, and Digital First Media. Brave is offering to meet with the association.


Paul Krill

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