3 min read

Anti-paywall add-on has been deprecated from the Mozilla website. The author of that add-on, Florent Daigniere confirmed that it has been removed from both Chrome and Mozilla. “This was done because the add-on violated the Firefox Add-on Distribution Agreement and the Conditions of Use,” Daigniere wrote. “It appears to be designed and promoted to allow users to circumvent paywalls, which is illegal”.

Last year, Daigniere released the anti-paywall browser extension that maximizes the chances of bypassing paywalls.

On asking Mozilla about why this add-on was deprecated, he got the reply:
“There are various laws in the US that prohibit tools for circumventing access controls like a paywall. Both Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) are examples. We are responding to a specific complaint that named multiple paywalls bypassing add-ons. It did not target only your add-on.”

This news was one of the top stories on Hacker News. People are largely opposing Mozilla’s move.

Making it harder to install addons (and breaking all the old ones) is one of the things contributing to Mozilla losing share to Chrome. People used to use Firefox over Chrome because of all the great addons, which they then broke, leaving users with less reason not to use Chrome.

I used to default to Firefox for work. Then they killed the old addons, which broke a major part of my workflow (FireFTP’s “open a file and as you edit it it automatically re-uploads” feature). So there was a lot less keeping me stuck to it.

This extension just seems to strip tracking data and pretend to be a Google bot. It baffles me that this is somehow concerning enough to be taken down. And anyway, isn’t making exemptions for Google’s robots sort-of against their policy?

Users offered advice and suggestions to Daigniere on how he can go about with the process.

I would consult with an attorney to determine legal options for an adequate defense and expected expenses. A consult is not a contract and you can change your mind if you are unwilling to take the risk with a lawsuit. I suspect the takedown notice is a DMCA takedown based upon a flawed assumption of the law.

The hard part about this is arguing the technical merits of the case before non-technical people. While the takedown notice is probably in error they could still make a good argument around bypassing their security controls. You could appeal to the EFF or ACLU. If they are willing to take your case it will be pro bono.

“I’d just move on. To be honest sites with those types of paywalls should not be indexed. The loophole you are taking advantage of here is a bait and switch by these sites. They want the search traffic but don’t want public access. Most of us have already adapted, however, and avoid these sites or pay for them.
Your plugin title blatantly describes that you’re avoiding paying for something they are charging for so even though it may not be illegal it’s not something I’d waste energy fighting for.

“Rename the plugin and change the description. The message from Mozilla states that the problem is the intent of the plugin. The technological measures it actually takes are not illegal per sé, but are illegal when used to circumvent paywalls.
If you present this as a plug-in that allows you to view websites as the Google bot views them, for educational and debugging purposes, there is no problem.

You can give the fact that it won’t see the paywall as an example. It’s actually useful for that purpose: you are not lying. It’s just that most people will install the plugin for its ‘side effects’. Their use of it will still be illegal, but the intent will not be illegal.

Read more of this conversation on Hacker News.

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