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Newspapers to Brave browser: Don't mess with our ads -- or else

The New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers say the startup's plan to remove their ads and insert others is "illegal." Brave's CEO says the browser is the "solution, not the problem."

Brave Software's logo

Brave Software is raising the hackles of the newspaper industry.

Brave Software

Browser maker Brave Software wants to rid the Web of the worst parts of online advertising, but the biggest newspapers in the US have launched an attack against the "illegal" plan.

Lawyers from The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other members of the Newspaper Association of America published a letter Thursday that threatens legal action against the San Francisco-based startup, whose browser can block or replace ads on their websites.

"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," the newspaper group's letter (PDF) said. The newspapers accused Brave of "republication" that violates copyright and trademark laws and websites' terms of use.

Brave Chief Executive Brendan Eich, who has major tech cred from helping to found Firefox developer Mozilla and inventing the Web's JavaScript programming language, responded in a blog post that the newspaper group misunderstands Brave and browsers in general.

"Contrary to the misstatements of the NAA letter, Brave is the solution, not the problem, for users and publishers," he said.

​Brave Software CEO and JavaScript inventor Brendan Eich

Brave Software CEO Brendan Eich says his browser is the "solution, not the problem, for users and publishers."

Stephen T. Shankland/CNET

The newspapers' letter targets one small startup but cuts to the heart of a profound problem: how to keep news, video, and other content freely available online without driving away readers through overly annoying and privacy-invading ads.

Online ads slow websites, track your behavior, drain phone batteries, obstruct content and sometimes even deliver attack software. No surprise, then, that 198 million people installed ad-blocking software in 2015. Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Firefox and Microsoft's Edge browsers also offer reading modes that strip out ads.

The Brave browser loads pages faster by stripping out not just ads but also website software that tracks users. The company eventually will insert ads that target your behavior but promises to keep your behavioral data on your computer and never gather the information itself. It's not clear yet how many people use the browser, which launched in February, but Brave offers versions for personal computers powered by Windows, OS X and Linux and for phones and tablets powered by Google's Android and Apple's iOS.

Brave's financial strategy is to share 55 percent of its ad revenue with publishers -- 70 percent when users don't specifically carve off 15 percent for themselves. Brave itself keeps 15 percent and sends 15 percent to ad technology business partners.

The newspapers refuse to participate.

Eich offered his own counterattack. "The news industry has been an active participant in violating individual readers' privacy by benefitting from non-consensual third-party tracking and ads," he said. "News industry leaders rightly decry the violation of privacy inherent in some NSA or FBI tactics, yet their own complicity in tracking individuals to even more invasive degrees is not addressed."

The Newspaper Association of America didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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