Day after day, Google is expected to take action in third parties’ intellectual property complaints to avoid becoming liable itself. Prime examples can be found in the millions of DMCA-style notices the company processes each week. Google must remove those entries or face being accused of facilitating infringement.
Another case that Google has become involved in, Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack, sees two Canadian entities face off (the latter previous employees of the former) over stolen intellectual property used to manufacture competing products.
While Google has no direct links to the case, the plaintiffs claim that the company’s search engine is helping to direct people to a network of websites operated by the defendants which are selling the unlawful products. Google already removed links from its Google.ca results voluntarily, but that wasn’t enough for Equustek who wanted broader action.
In a ruling handed down in British Columbia, Justice L.A. Fenlon agreed, ordering Google to remove the infringing websites’ listings from its search results. Despite protestations from Google that any injunction should be limited to Canada and Google.ca, the Judge targeted Google’s central database in the United States, meaning that the ruling has worldwide implications.
“I note again that on the record before me, the injunction would compel Google to take steps in California or the state in which its search engine is controlled, and would not therefore direct that steps be taken around the world,” the Judge wrote.
“That the effect of the injunction could reach beyond one state is a separate issue. Even an order mandating or enjoining conduct entirely within British Columbia may have such extraterritorial, or even worldwide effect.”
Noting that Google did not complain that an order requiring it block the websites would “offend” the law in California where it is based, or any other country from where a search could be carried out, the Judge said that the search giant acknowledged that most countries would recognize that dealing in pirated products was “a legal wrong.”
Further detailing her decision, Judge Fenlon compared Google to an innocent warehouse that had been forbidden from shipping out goods for a company subjected to an injunction. That local order not to ship could also have broader geographical implications.
“Could it sensibly be argued that the Court could not grant the injunction because it would have effects worldwide? The impact of an injunction on strangers to the suit or the order itself is a valid consideration in deciding whether to exercise the Court’s jurisdiction to grant an injunction. It does not, however, affect the Court’s authority to make such an order,” she wrote.
The Judge also touched on the futility of ordering a blockade of results only on Google.ca, when users can simply switch to another variant.
“For example, even if the defendants’ websites were blocked from searches conducted through www.google.ca, Canadian users can go to www.google.co.uk or www.google.fr and obtain results including the defendants’ websites. On the record before me it appears that to be effective, even within Canada, Google must block search results on all of its websites,” she explained.
The nature of the ruling has raised concerns with lawyer Michael Geist, who notes that despite being issued by a local court, the ruling has attempted to match Google’s global reach.
“The issues raised by the decision date back to the very beginning of the globalization of the Internet and the World Wide Web as many worried about jurisdictional over-reach with courts applying local laws to a global audience,” Geist explains.
“While there is much to be said for asserting jurisdiction over Google – if it does business in the jurisdiction, the law should apply – attempts to extend blocking orders to a global audience has very troubling implications that could lead to a run on court orders that target the company’s global search results.”
While Google has a little under two weeks to comply with the injunction, its representatives told The Globe and Mail that the decision will be appealed.