August 2019
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Free advertising ?

While I’m writing this post, my mail box contains 1055 bug reports for the PDFreaders campaign. In other words, if we discard the double reports, at least 1000 institutions have been spotted doing exclusive advertising for non-free PDF readers… While launching this campaign, we knew that this practice was quite widespread. The more we see these advertisings, the more two questions keep coming :

  • Is this practice legal ?
  • since advertising online presupposes fees, how much money would proprietary companies pay to advertise on a normal website ?

Concerning the legal basis

I’ve had a quick look at the French Code du commerce (code of trade), and unsurprisingly the state prohibits any actions that goes agains the competition, and the code forbids people to use the public domain to do advertising. The only advertisings that the government can do is for its own policies.

For more details :

Article L420-1

Sont prohibées même par l’intermédiaire direct ou indirect d’une société du groupe implantée hors de France, lorsqu’elles ont pour objet ou peuvent avoir pour effet d’empêcher, de restreindre ou de fausser le jeu de la concurrence sur un marché, les actions concertées, conventions, ententes expresses ou tacites ou coalitions, notamment lorsqu’elles tendent à :

Limiter l’accès au marché ou le libre exercice de la concurrence par d’autres entreprises

In short : any action that hinders, restricts or falsifies the competition on a market is prohibited, namely when it restricts the entry to the market for some companies.

Let’s have a look at one other article of the same Code of commerce…

Article L442-8

Il est interdit à toute personne d’offrir à la vente des produits ou de proposer des services en utilisant, dans des conditions irrégulières, le domaine public de l’Etat, des collectivités locales et de leurs établissements publics.

In other words : it is forbidden to use irregularly the “public domain” of the state to sell or offer services (we just now have to define whether or not the website is part of the public domain…)

I’ve not been able to search for the law in other european countries, but please tell me if you know anything of the laws there regarding competition and public advertising…

Concerning the cost of advertising

To advertise on the Internet is no way a gratuitious practice… We know that a governmental support for one product is a very good advertising for one software provider (or actually for any other service providing or producing company), I would actually be very interested to know how much it costs in the different European countries to advertise on a website, just to make a calculation on how much money the proprietary PDF readers companies spare in being given the priviledge to advertise on governmental websites, while all their competitors have to struggle only to be known…

Any idea or estmation ? Comments are welcome.

3 comments to Free advertising ?

  • poderi

    Actually, since the pdfreaders campaign started, I begun thinking to the word/verb “advertising”.

    Can a link to adobe’s reader be formally included in the category “advertising/ment”? I mean, I really doubt Adobe is paying any money to any of the websites that provide those links. Nor that it has a formal marketing program aiming at having governmental websites to linkback to their readers.
    And I started doubting that those links can be considered “advertisements” under any of the current national law (just my feelings about it).

    In Italy, we have some laws regulating the so-called “pubblicità occulta” (hidden advertisement/Product placement/embedded marketing, wikipedia). I fear that the bad practice of linking to adobe’s reader might rather fall under this category than the simple “advertisement”. Thus, our message/strategy should become a little bit more elaborate for the later stage of the campaign.


  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Delphine Ménard, Hugo Roy. Hugo Roy said: Free and Illegal advertising for non free PDF readers (#adobe) #fsfe [...]

  • maelle

    Thanks for your reply !
    It’s very likely indeed that most governments see it as being advertising, but I’m pretty sure that the proprietary software companies do… and enjoy it even more because it is free of charge.
    I agree that they are unlikely to run a marketing policy to have these advertising placed, that’s why they are not regarded as responsible in this campaign.

    The idea of “hidden advertising” you brought up from the Italian law is very interesting, for it is exactly what this is about : a governmental support for a private product… which in the end serves the needs of the product in making it known and assuring it is reliable, i.e. in advertising for it…

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