Victory: Germans Protected

You may remember I have posted in the past about ‘subscription trap’ websites, which offer downloads of Firefox but hide payment obligations in their small print.

Last Friday, December 10, 2010, Mozilla scored a big victory over some of the most persistent of these websites. A German court ruled that Mozilla’s trademarks, such as Firefox and Thunderbird, may not be used to offer software downloads against payment. And any form of payment information for software downloads of Free software in general must be presented to users in a clearly visible and evident way. Here is a PDF copy of the court decision in German (which has been made anonymous in accordance with the requirements of German law).

In addition to the cease and desist orders, the defendants were also ordered to provide Mozilla with full information about their money-making scheme, revealing just how many unsuspecting users have been defrauded during the past years. On the basis of that information, Mozilla will have the right to bring a damages claim against the defendants. The size of the fraudulent operation is huge. According to some information we obtained in the course of our investigations, they sent over 170,000 invoices to defrauded users in one random week in 2009.

Update 2010-12-17 05:50 PST: The figures below for billing amounts and payment rates are clearly marked as complete guesswork. In particular, I have not a shred of corroborating evidence for the “80%” figure. Please do not rely on them or quote them (and therefore the £500 million figure calculated from them) without this important disclaimer attached. It’s a big problem – but we don’t know how big yet. And there’s a long, long way between here and us ever seeing any money from them. And it will be orders of magnitude smaller than that figure.

Some finger-in-the-air guesses about billing amounts (£75 per user) and payment rates (80%) leads me to estimate that this one set of sites might have been clearing up to £500 million a year (US$777 million; €587 million). This is a scarcely believable amount of money, and is several multiples of Mozilla’s income which we use to support the project.

If you want to report a suspected scam, please use Mozilla’s own abuse reporting form. Anthonia from our legal team in Germany is happy to answer any questions concerning the German proceedings.

6 thoughts on “Victory: Germans Protected

  1. £500 million seems awfully high. Where does the 80% payment rate guess come from (even if it is finger-in-the-air)?

    Regardless, I hope Mozilla can claim substantial damages and as a result donate money towards a good anti-scamming cause and safeguard Mozilla’s future for a few more years with the rest of it.

  2. The 80% payment rate results from the fact that the model seems to be that they charge your card there and then, and they have a valid contract, so it’s very difficult to dispute the charge or get a refund.

    Although Anthonia did talk about them “sending out invoices” so perhaps there is some gap between that and getting the money.

  3. The pages that are missing contain screenshots of the infringing websites. We are still waiting for decent colour copies from the court, will then make them anonymous (URLs etc) and then you will get the whole thing.

  4. The high payment rate comes from the fact that these guys send frequent and menacing invoices, threaten with attorneys and money collection companies coming after people, etc. Most people seem to think: “Even if this is very dodgy, who knows whether I will be able to prove before a court that I made a mistake when making the download, and before I risk legal action, where I could possibly be left paying much more, I’d rather pay up so that they will leave me alone.”

  5. The pdf file only contains the tenor of the Court´s judgment. Is it possible to provide the reasoning of that decision as well? Did the Court primarily consider copyright, trademark or unfair competition law?

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