U.S. District Court Permanently Blocks Order Requiring Google to Filter Certain Search Results
TechLawLogy™: eDiscovery and Privacy Blog
While laws are tied to specific jurisdictions, the internet permeates those boundaries in a unique way. This can lead to interesting situations when courts around the world don’t see eye to eye on how to deal with legal issues related to the internet. Google recently called on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to step in and enjoin the enforcement of a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada requiring Google to remove certain content from its worldwide search results. Luckily for Google, the District Court sided with the tech company, preventing the Canadian court from asserting its power to filter online content across the globe.
The Supreme Court of Canada ordered Google to filter out certain links from its worldwide search engine results.
Google, the popular company known best for its search engine, found itself in the middle of a dispute between Equustek Solutions Inc. (“Equustek”), a British Columbia-based company, and Datalink Technologies Gateways, Inc. (“Datalink”). According to Equustek, Datalink unlawfully stole Equustek’s trade secrets and used this information to sell products on its websites. After a lengthy court battle, the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately sided with Equustek, finding that Datalink had indeed stolen trade secrets from Equustek. Yet despite a court order prohibiting any further sale of products that misused Equustek’s intellectual property, Datalink continued to do so.
As a result of Datalink’s continued behavior, Equustek asked that Google de-index Datalink’s websites, which Google refused to do. Google did, however, de-index certain pages on Datalink’s websites, though this proved to be rather futile as Datalink simply moved the unlawful products to different webpages. Frustrated with the continued unlawful activities of Datalink, Equustek sought an injunction barring Google from displaying Datalink’s websites in search results anywhere in the world. The Supreme Court of Canada found that Google facilitated Datalink’s unlawful behavior by providing links to Datalink websites on its search engine. Google argued that any injunction should be limited to Google’s Canadian search engine. Believing that such a limited injunction would be ineffective, the court granted Equustek’s request for a worldwide injunction against Google.
In seeking relief, Google argued that the court order threatened free speech and violated Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
After the Supreme Court of Canada entered its order, Google turned to a United States court for relief. It argued that the worldwide injunction threatened free speech and violated Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The relevant part of Section 230 states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In Zeran v. America Online, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviewed a case where an unidentified user posted a message on an America Online (“AOL”) bulletin board advertising offensive shirts related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The plaintiff, to whom the messages were wrongfully ascribed, sued AOL. The Fourth Circuit recognized the impracticability of expecting service providers to screen the postings of their many users and the stifling effect that such an expectation could have on free speech. Through the enactment of Section 230, the court found, Congress intended to afford service providers immunity for the actions of their users. Since the Zeran decision, Section 230 has acted as a shield against liability for entities that fit the definition of an “interactive computer service provider.”
Google filed a motion with the District Court asking the court to grant a preliminary injunction to halt the enforcement of the Canadian court’s order while the case proceeded. Equustek never responded to Google’s court filings or attempted to oppose the preliminary injunction. On November 3, 2017, the District Court granted Google’s request for a preliminary injunction, reasoning that Google was an interactive computer service provider within the meaning of Section 230 and had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the case. On December 14, 2017, Google won a major victory when the District Court issued a permanent injunction blocking the Canadian court’s order.
This case stands to reaffirm the principle that under American law, online intermediaries, such as Google, are generally not held liable for the actions of their users. To hold otherwise would stifle the free flow of ideas that is central to the internet, as online intermediaries would restrict the services they offer in fear of being haled into court.
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