The Internet offers a wealth of free information and entertainment, often monetized by advertisements.
Ads come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from classy commercials, through annoying banners, all the way to malicious ads.
In recent years, URL shorteners with built-in monetization tools have been added to the mix. Services such as AdFly, Adshrink, Linkvertise, and Shrinkearn pay hard cash for directing links through their ads.
The services allow people to make easy money, which sounds great, but it’s also a major annoyance for everyone else. This is why developer Tim Speckhals, aka ‘Sainan‘, came up with an easy tool to circumvent these redirects: Universal Bypass.
“I was annoyed by those sorts of sites and hadn’t seen an extension of that type, so I thought I’d fill that niché,” Speckhals tells TorrentFreak. Fast forward two years and this idea turned into one of the most-loved browser extensions.
Universal Bypass is now used by hundreds of thousands of people. It’s available for several browsers, including Chrome and Firefox, and doesn’t cost a penny. Up until recently, everything had gone smoothly. However, that changed when an outfit behind a URL shortener sent its lawyers after the developer.
Earlier this month, Linkvertise’s lawyer informed the Universal Bypass developer that his addon has a significant impact on the company’s business model. According to the letter, it violates copyright law by circumventing Linkverse’s technical protection measures.
“[This activity] is prohibited under 595a Copyright Act and triggers various counterclaims under copyright law. You are also aware that the addon you have programmed is used to circumvent monetization by my client,” the letter reads, translated from German.
While Universal Bypass does indeed circumvent Linkvertise’s URLs, it’s not clear what the copyright infringement is in this case. The addon doesn’t make any Linkvertise content available without permission.
Linkvertise has reached out to Universal Bypass before, asking it to stop its activities, but that didn’t work out. The most recent request is more strongly worded, however, and comes with a legal threat.
The letter demands that Universal Bypass stops interfering with Linkvertise URLs. Also, users should not be allowed to manually add a Linkvertise bypass script to the addon. On top of that, the relevant code should be removed from the GitHub repository as well.
If the developers comply, Linkvertise is willing to pay its own legal bills. If not, it will take legal action to enforce their demands and request compensation for all legal fees.
“You should appreciate this courtesy from my client, who gives you the opportunity to get out of this situation without prejudice, even though you recently let the first chance go untapped. He won’t give you another chance,” Linkvertise’s lawyer warns.
The deadline that was initially offered has already expired, but the developer didn’t budge. After all, Speckhals believes that his open-source software doesn’t violate any law.
“I don’t think I violated their copyright in any way, but I’m also not a lawyer,” Speckhals informs us, adding that he hired an attorney to help fight off the legal pressure.
After the deadline expired Speckhals was given a new one, but the issue has already escalated. It is likely that Linkvertise will request an injunction, which the developer hopes to contest in court. To help pay his legal bill, he has begun collecting donations through Twitter.
The entire saga is reminiscent of another legal battle in Germany. Last year, German publisher Alex Springer sued Adblock Plus for copyright infringement claiming that adblockers endanger digital journalism.
With ad blocking being extremely prevalent, these cases could potentially have a much wider impact. The Universal Bypass developer is well aware of this and is not planning to back down anytime soon.
“I am planning to fight this until I get a favorable result,” Speckhals says.