Breaking down Linus' Take on AdBlock Being Piracy

If you actually read this​ thanks for reading. My frustrations with Google AdSense are real and writing this is therapeutic for me.

Introducing Where I Come From

Alright, so lets get this out of the way before I even start.  Linus Tech Tips is one of my favorite YouTube channels. I also enjoy Techquickie. Occasionally I even listen to the entire WAN show on Google Podcasts. I am even subscribed to LMG Clips due to the often occasion I do not listen to the WAN show.

I don't fall into the category of 'pirate ARRR' as Linus has defined it. I do use Ublock Origin on all my devices that I can and I absolutely love it. I am also a YouTube Premium subscriber. My watch time is directly paid to creators, with Linus media group getting a solid chunk of my valuable watch time.

I support LTT content in other ways. Occasionally I click on LTT affiliate links in their videos when I'm interested and may even purchase something (I will never click on a google AdSense ad however). I play Minecraft using the LTT Minecraft server occasionally. I even bought one of the LTT desk mats and honestly, it's been one of my favorite accessories. I like the design and I like how it makes my desk feel when working on it. My only complaint with the desk mat was that it really, REALLY, stunk of mouse pad rubber when I first opened it (stunk of my whole room and I had to open a window for several days). Regardless of the stank, I could easily see myself buying another desk mat if LTT comes out with another really good design. LTT videos even helped inform a recent purchase of a Legion 5i Pro laptop for Christmas, a laptop which I wrote this blog with.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I'm likely in the 99th percentile of LTT supporters monetarily, as I believe his content has intrinsic value. I say these things to make it clear that I am not trying to troll Linus nor do I think his content isn't worth supporting, with my actions strongly speaking in support of this.

Linus is also entitled to his opinion and I'm not trying to say that his opinion doesn't matter. In fact, I'm saying exactly the opposite. Linus' opinion does matter as he has incredible reach that is far beyond mine. 

I'm trying to clearly and reasonably explain my particular point of view as to why Linus' take on piracy isn't a "hot take" but a "bad take", as on the off chance he reads this, I might end up convincing him to reconsider. In my view, Linus' take on AdBlock doesn't get a ghost pepper rating, but a rotten pepper rating. 

I feel that Linus' is ignoring (or is unaware of) the large amount of legal history and precedent when it comes to how piracy is legally defined in the USA.  I also feel Linus' stance doesn't do justice to the real issues that are inherent in Google AdSense Ads, something that I have had to deal with, since you know, my only current option to monetize this blog is to personally deal with Google AdSense Ads.

To be clear, there are differences in Canadian intellectual property law, but as an American (and a political science major dropout who switched to Physics), I simply do not have much experience or knowledge with Canadian intellectual property law and will not try to make comments on said Canadian law. In spite of this, a large portion of LTT viewership likely comes from the USA (with YouTube also being an US company), so I don't think it entirely unfair to view it from an American legal perspective.

Finally to be extra clear about my conflicts of interests, this blog incorporates and is monetized by Google AdSense Ads. If you see an ad that you are interested in, feel free to take a gander. It supports my work when readers of my blog do so. 

However, be VERY CAREFUL and CAUTIOUS when you click or follow ad links. If you suspect that there are any unscrupulous/dishonest/scummy ads REPORT THEM! I do my best to set Google AdSense filters appropriately, to control which ads show on my website, and have tried to restrict where ads show. In spite of all this, I do not have complete control over what Google AdSense shows and I absolutely appreciate all the help I can get in annihilating bad ads off the face of the internet ESPECIALLY WITH MY CONTENT!!!!

I am the definition of a small creator and Google AdSense ads are really my only option currently to make any money. Even though I do make money from Google AdSense Ads, I do not discourage you from blanket blocking my ads, or other ads in general. There are simply too many risks inherent within Google AdSense Ads (and many other large ad distribution platforms) for me to be upset or frankly even annoyed at those who choose to outright blanket block ads.

Getting to Linus' "Hot Take"

Alright now that introductions, disclaimers, and my general position has hopefully been made apparent, lets get to the point. I recently watched Linus' hot take on using AdBlock on YouTube. During this Linus also shows this tweet

You should watch the video. It provides context to what I will be addressing. LTT should even get the watch time credited to them as I have embedded this YouTube video into this website using YouTube's embedding feature.

Getting to the Heart of my Position

In my opinion, there is enough things wrong with the Google AdSense platform for the average user to ethically justify blanket adblocking, regardless of the creator.  

Just to show a point, I will detail a few of the ad categories that Google AdSense allows me to control. Some of them are baffling that they have a category, let alone are allowed.

  • "Get rich quick" This baffles me. I simply cannot fathom why Google would want to be associated with get rich quick schemes. I guess money is money, and if they can make money from shilling this crap while getting away with it, it doesn't matter what they promote.
  • "Social casino games" As a practicing data scientist, I can confidently say that statistically, beyond any perceived entertainment value, Casino's are a scam.
  • "Gambling & betting (18+)" see above
  • "Drugs & Supplements" Like seriously, don't get medical advice from an ad. Always talk to a licensed Doctor/Professional for medical advice, DO NOT TRUST random internet ads with your health. Please, if you really have questions about something you saw in an ad, please consult a doctor. 
  • "Astrology & Esoteric” I post about astronomy science on my blog dammit don’t you dare put that on my website 
  •  “Significant Skin Exposure” Honestly, this sounds like porn. This is a science/data/opinion blog. I don't want google advertising porn on my blog. 

I personally have been served hentai ads on YouTube, which I didn't recognize as hentai until I clicked on it out of curiosity (which then became painfully obvious). If you are an adult and into that stuff, fine go crazy. I'm not concerned about that. What I'm concerned about is how these types of ads should simply not exist on a platform that claims to be the number one website for kids.

The FCC dealt record fines to YouTube for the perceived harm that AdSense Ads did to children on YouTube's platform. Kids are impressionable, and they shouldn't be treated like adults, which I hope we all agree on. I will let you decide whether YouTube acted in the best interest of children, when instead of taking responsibility, started attempting to push liability onto YouTube creators. I strongly believe that there are other ways for YouTube to handle kids content, other than attempting to push liability onto creators, especially as Google is the party that is in complete control of AdSense and YouTube platform.

Beyond FCC fines, viewers adblocking Google AdSense ads is another powerful way to encourage and facilitate positive change. This is why I’m frustrated with Linus' position conflating AdBlock with Piracy.

Breaking Down Linus' Takes on AdBlock and Piracy

I'll be honest, even I feel I'm writing a lot and I might need to go touch some grass. But hey, I'm already this deep into it so might as well continue.

I am not trying to put words into Linus' mouth. Most of my rebuttals, examples, rhetoric, arguments I give are not trying to accuse Linus of holding any specific position. They are simply to make it clear what my stance is on the matter is. 

I'm doing also doing my best to paraphrase Linus accurately. Let's start shall we?

1:42 [AdBlock is the same thing as piracy] 

No it is not. Before we continue lets get definitions straight. If one doesn't accept these definitions, I suggest that one should take that complaint to the US legal institutions that have set them. The FBI clearly defines piracy on their website to be equivalent to intellectual property theft

I don't know about Canada but legal precent in the USA seems to clearly define that AdBlock like filtering is not piracy with the US supreme court even going farther then this. In Sony Vs Universal 1984 the supreme court ruled that it was fair use for users to record and time-shift (not publish and redistribute) publicly broadcasted content while also ruling that manufacturers of recording equipment could not be held liable. I don't really recommend anyone do this (this is not legal advice), but if I were to extend this ruling to YouTube, not only is AdBlock fair use, but hypothetically I could record LTT videos as I watch them and save them for later, claiming fair use.

If I were sued in this hypothetical situation (I don't actually do this), would this hold up in court as fair use? If precedent were to be followed, then one might argue that yes, it could hold up in court. If something is publicly broadcasted, US courts have ruled in the past that it's fair use for the end user to record and modify it for their own personal use. YouTube could be considered a public broadcasting platform, albeit a unique one. This interpretation has had difficulty with the advent of digital technology and has been challenged. This could lead to the precedent changing, but as of right now, this is how things seem to be.

To use a metaphor, yelling into the void of the blue sky (the blue sky being current US piracy law definitions) that the sky is actually pink will never actually make the sky pink no matter how annoyed one might be at how blue the sky is.

4:12 [twitter is terrible] 

Yes I agree, Twitter can be a terrible platform for reasonable discussion, with some of the responses he got on Twitter being pretty mis-informed. However, bad takes on Twitter seem to be part of Twitter's identity as a platform so it's reasonably expected. It's why I have a blog.

4:30 [cirque du soleil] 

Not comparable, such a show has the legal precedent to set the price of the ticket and use law enforcement to punish those who trespass without paying. YouTube doesn't seem to be able, or willing, to punish or legally pursue AdBlock companies or adblockers. US courts have defined users modifying content on their end as fair use. Fair use by definition is not piracy and is a powerful legal defense against piracy accusations. Again, modern technology has caused challenges to this interpretation, but in order for anything to really be different from what it is now, I would assume the Supreme Court would again likely have to take up another similar case.

8:07 [compared it to pirating Netflix] 

No, Netflix keeps it's content behind a paywall just like LTT does with Floatplane. As far as I know, YouTube content is not behind a paywall like a journal site akin to the New York Times, YouTube is not behind an AdWall and YouTube doesn't seem to actively pursue blocking AdBlock users. As far as I know, anyone is able to freely and publicly access YouTube content including AdBlock users. 

The freely available nature of content is what makes YouTube such a powerhouse in the digital video space and is arguably what makes the LTT business viable. But this freely available nature also defeats many piracy arguments Linus is making. Ironically, by arguing that AdBlock is piracy, the very principles that LTT built it's business on, namely freely available content, risks being eroded. 

Netflix's business model is simply not the same and is entirely reliant on subscriptions. In order to get Netflix content from Netflix without paying (beyond just torrenting), one would likely have to take advantage of Netflix's video delivery system somehow (akin to hacking or something), which could very well be illegal and punishable by US law.

9:54 [Francesco's take]

I think Francesco has it correct. Blocking ads is not the same as piracy.

10:10 [What it takes to run a video hosting platform]

I have a small YouTube channel along with this blog. I don't consider it a business and is more of a random hobby I pick up occasionally. Regardless, I know and understand how much work/stress it entails to publish just a small amount of decent technical content. For me, it can easily be 100+ hours of technical work for a single, short video. I also understand how discouraging and demoralizing when I don't get much in return for content that had a lot of work put into it. To be perfectly honest, as a small hobbyist content creator, if I randomly got millions of views purely from users who use AdBlock, I would be ecstatic. 

AdBlock like technology seems to be considered fair use by US law (and directly by German courts) and not piracy. Personally, I would strongly suggest instead of conflating AdBlock with an arbitrary definition of piracy, its more important that creators find ways of making money outside of Google if they want it to be more than a hobby.

A Google AdSense monetized audience is not something that is given. YouTube at any point can completely turn this off for any creator for any reason with no consequences (which YouTube routinely does). Any creator with a big enough audience to make appreciable amounts of money from Google AdSense, with some business savvy practices, can almost certainly make better and more stable money outside of Google AdSense ads. 

I assert that if the creator wants to do YouTube content for a living, it is their responsibility to monetize their audience if they want any sort of real stability. A creator shouldn't even expect that YouTube is going to properly pay them for ads viewed, with no external auditing measures in place (as far as I can tell).

LTT did not create Google AdSense, LTT does not serve AdSense ads, Linus has even said he is not arguing piracy in any legal sense. As Google AdSense is out of his control, I am also assuming Linus would like to avoid any legal repercussions from serving Google AdSense ads. As such, conflating AdBlock with piracy and accusing users of lost revenue is simply wrong. YouTube likely has ways of making money from AdBlock users regardless of whether they directly view AdSense ads. They don't pay content creators for that indirect revenue.  YouTube simply chooses to keep that money irrespective of how much a creator contributed to the platform. The responsibility to pay creators lies with YouTube itself, not the users of YouTube. 


A YouTube premium subscription is a more ethical way for YouTube to monetize it's platform then AdSense. Like I mentioned previously, I have YouTube premium. However, the problem with YouTube premium is that it offers little value outside of no ads and being supportive of creators. Personally, the only reason I have YouTube Premium is because it was offered to me at a hefty discount with YouTube music.

Regardless, for me, paying a small extra amount for YouTube Premium with Music is worth the price to support creators. 

However on the flip side, I also strongly feel that LTT content is not worth the price of watching Google AdSense ads. In fact, I assert that no content on YouTube is worth the cost of watching Google AdSense Ads. I would rather effectively cut YouTube out of my life before subjecting myself to those ridiculous and invasive YouTube ads. 

I found this degrading effect that Google AdSense ads had on my blog content (and the possibility of bad ads being shown) to be at the core of my frustration. I want to support Google for making a viable platform for a lot of people, but their default monetization schemes tends to be pretty flawed.

I do not expect most to pay for YouTube Premium, especially since it doesn't offer much, and I cannot ethically say someone is behaving badly for using AdBlock due to Google AdSense problems.

Can this suck for creators? Yup, but honestly this is the price that YouTube has forced onto content creators who don't have any other choice. 

13:25 [I can just ignore the ad and the creator still gets paid]

I would say this is more a theoretical/ethical counterpoint. LTT puts a lot of work into their content and obviously wants to be compensated for it. The business that paid for Google AdSense ads needs to make their money back. Saying that it is justifiable to ignore the ad as long as it's served, pushes the financial liability over to the business. How is this ethically different then just blocking the ad in the first place, which pushes the financial liability on the creator? It's entirely subjective which situation is better or worse ethically.

15:15 [If you are not upholding your end of the bargain then it's piracy. If that bothers you then maybe you have some self reflection to do] 

Honestly, this made chuckle. Maybe the person who needs to self reflect is the one pointlessly accusing others of piracy. At this point, maybe we both need to go touch some grass and go get some ice cream or something.

Personally, I have accepted that people can and will AdBlock my ads. I also feel that it is ethically ok for them to do so. If I were to feel shame about anything to do with AdSense Ads, I feel far more shame about how badly Google ads trash the presentation of my content then I do about people using AdBlock.

16:22 [not bad for LTT]

I disagree with Linus on this one. Losing ad revenue is bad for LTT. The LTT twitter even states LTT would be 20% smaller without ad revenue. If it is considered a good thing for Linus Media Group to exist, I would consider cutting revenue by 20% a very bad thing.

So does AdBlock hurt smaller creators more than LTT then?

I by definition am an incredibly tiny creator, being orders of magnitude smaller than LTT. On my blog Google AdSense does not provide any appreciable income for me. YouTube forces ads onto some of my more popular videos and doesn't even compensate me for it. It doesn't matter in the slightest to my bottom line if AdBlock is used on my content as YouTube doesn't pay me for the ads on my content anyway. 

In my case where YouTube doesn't pay me anything for ads on my content, especially when they ethically should (they have already vetted my blog, how much harder can it be to vet my YouTube), how can you possibly argue that AdBlock is piracy towards the creator?

YouTube is the entity that is responsible for paying content creators. As to why YouTube doesn't pay me for the ads it shows on my content, it probably would give the arbitrary excuse that they can't vet content for people under 1000 subscribers. I would counter by saying that if they can't vet my content, they shouldn't be putting ads on it.

The real reason YouTube puts ads on my YouTube videos without paying me is because they can get away with it, not because it's ethical. Smaller creators can easily be demonetized, have videos claimed, among various other things which are hard to fight because they are small. Accusing Adblockers for acting unethical towards smaller content creators is seriously missing the forest for the trees. YouTube itself often is a far greater problem when it comes to small creators, screwing them over harder than AdBlock users could ever hope to do. In my opinion, these problems small creators face due to the AdSense platform will always overshadow any complaints about AdBlock users.

17:30 [paid for baked in sponsorship ads]

This honestly is something I respect LTT for doing so well. For me, baked in sponsors are in a far less ethically questionable area than Google AdSense. Some reasons for this is that LTT is taking direct responsibility for their sponsors, promoting trust. LTT can vet sponsors so as to avoid promoting straight up scams. Sponsorships are generally delivered tastefully (often with some type of joke) as to not distract too much from the content it is served with. Sponsors can be chosen based upon what the audience would like, not from the privacy invasive harvesting of endless amounts of user data. Linus delivers when it comes to ethical advertising and seems to know how to do it right. 

Google AdSense is literally the polar opposite in many ways. AdSense ads are often poorly served and obnoxious. They often don't fit into the content they are served with. A user simply does not know if what is being advertised in anything more than a scam. I don't understand defending Google AdSense especially when LTT does such a good job with in video sponsors.

18:50 [Anti consumer. Linus doesn't understand what the argument is against]

There is a lot of context as to why users use AdBlock that isn't as addressed as much as the "AdBlock is piracy" point in this clip. When it comes to Google AdSense, there is a lot of reasons why one could argue it's ethical and fair use to block ad, even if it does impact the creator.

I think Linus was right that people are projecting anger onto him, but I think he has the source of the anger wrong. I don't think that people who are generally upset by his stance feel guilty for using AdBlock. I think a lot of them feel genuine frustration at the literally shit show that is most websites. Ads ruin content and are often very poorly served. Accusing users of piracy by using AdBlock "cause they just don't understand" ignores the root cause of the issue. This is why many are upset.

19:12 [calling it piracy rather than stealing]

But intellectual property theft is precisely how the FBI interprets piracy. 

The way I see this argument is that Linus is frustrated that he (and others) are losing ad revenue due to AdBlock. He wants to make a case that people should aware of how this negatively effects creators. I assume this due to his rhetoric, making comparisons to pirating Netflix, sneaking into circus shows, etc. that he believes AdBlock is unethical.

This argument might work if the ads were harmless, but the cold reality is that Google AdSense ads are not always harmless.  Arguing that adblocking YouTube ads is unethical because it negatively effects content creators, ignores the very real problem that those ads can negatively effect end users.

Blocking something that is unethical from a content creator, even if it negatively effects that content creator, is not unethical, period. Honestly, I think content creators need to understand this, else they are in for a rude awakening.

20:56 [not in a legal sense it's piracy. Don't want to pay for it. New word for it.]

If Linus isn't arguing that AdBlock is not piracy in a legal sense, then what is he arguing? He's claims that we should be aware of the impact. Great, but content creators also need to be aware of the impact and ethical implications of Google AdSense. The piracy argument to me is short sighted in that it is only concerned about the immediate bottom line of content creators, while ignoring the glaring ethical grayness of the Google AdSense platform and the damage that poorly done ads can cause to the platform as a whole.

Linus has a terrific way to advertise products through in video sponsors. He has effectively solved how to tastefully advertise products to viewers in a fairly ethical way. This isn't the case with Google AdSense. 

23:56 [just be aware of the impact it has on creators]

Trust me, I am aware of the impact of Google ads have on creators. Particularly, I have experienced the awful behavior of YouTube towards smaller creators forcing ads onto content and then not compensating them for it.

I am also aware of the impact AdSense ads can have on the end user. Google AdSense provides the capability of promoting "Get Rick Quick" schemes on my website. Obviously, I have disabled these ads globally. 

The average user doesn't know this though and can't verify that I've disabled "Get Rich Quick" ads. Why should users who don't know me (and by extension don't trust me) risk getting exposed to really bad ads? Google AdSense gives me the capability of serving ads in a horrid manner, which certainly connotates that someone somewhere is serving horrid ads. These types of ads can and will slowly undermine YouTube as a whole, ironically destroying the very creators careers Linus argues are impacted by AdBlock.

Asking user's to remove AdBlock because of how it impacts creators ignores the real and negative impact bad ads can have. Personally, I have done my best to make sure acceptable ads appear on my site, but for every person like me, there are likely 100's who serve up as much crap as possible to make a quick buck, not caring about their users.

Some Parting thoughts

Honestly, LTT has done a good job with their baked in sponsorship ads. I also don't think Google Ads are irredeemable either. Most of the time, Google AdSense ads are incredibly neutral things, if just a bit annoying. Sometimes though, they are a bit more malicious than that and it can often be difficult to tell the difference.

AdBlock is not the problem when it comes to fairly compensating creators, it's a symptom of a much bigger problem with how ads are handled and presented on websites in general, YouTube included. Linus has proven that advertising can be done well. Google has shown how to do ads badly. Honestly, I hope if Linus reads this he can consider rethinking his approach to Google AdSense ads at the very least. He has the platform to push change, change which if done right can greatly benefit everyone involved.

Regardless, thanks for reading.


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