Free file hosting provider MediaFire seems to think that, when you follow a link to download a file from its service, it has the right to control your browser. This is yet another example of a web site owner forgetting that it's your computer, and it's none of their business how you choose to experience their web pages.
This latest spat involves SkipScreen, a Firefox plug-in that automates the process of downloading from free hosting sites like RapidShare, zShare, MegaUpload, and others (including, until recently, MediaFire). Some of these ad-supported download sites try to force downloaders to sit through a "waiting period" before revealing the actual download link— a "feature" that these sites doubtless tout to advertisers in order to get premium ad rates. SkipScreen automates this waiting-and-clicking for you. Simply put, it does nothing you couldn't accomplish just as well by hiring a human to browse for you.
MediaFire has responded by sending a lawyer letter to Mozilla, which hosts the SkipScreen plug-in, along with thousands of other Firefox add-ons. EFF has taken SkipScreen's creators as clients, and has sent a letter to Mozilla explaining why MediaFire doesn't have a leg to stand on.
Here's the short version: it's my browser, and I can ignore your ads if I want to.
MediaFire's arguments to the contrary are entirely misguided. First, they suggest that SkipScreen somehow lets users "steal bandwidth." That's wrong on the facts: SkipScreen just automates the exact process that the user would otherwise have to do themselves in order download a file. No "extra downloads," no additional bandwidth for MediaFire. Second, MediaFire argues that the use of SkipScreen violates MediaFire's "acceptable use policy." That's wrong on the law: users who follow a link to a MediaFire download never click-through or otherwise agree to any "acceptable use policy," so there's no contract here that prohibits a user from using whatever browser she likes (including whatever plug-ins she likes) to download a file.
Sure, MediaFire probably would prefer that we all sit, transfixed, while they display ads for us, just like certain Hollywood executives wish we would never leave the couch or hit FFWD when commercials run during our favorite TV shows, and certain websites wish they could ban Firefox ad-blockers. Fortunately, there's nothing in the law that says that by simply visiting a website, I give up the right to control my desktop.
OCTOBER 9, 2009 UPDATE: Mozilla has announced it will continue to support our client SkipScreen in its add-on library. Good news for browser users everywhere!