Google Won’t Take Down Links to Censored Celebrity Sex Story

The celebrity couple at the center of a row over a secret threesome will have to wait until Monday to find out whether their injunction forbidding the publication of their names will be upheld. In the meantime anti-piracy outfit Web Sheriff has asked Google to remove links to dozens of news stories, all of which have been rejected.

censoredLast month it was revealed that an individual in the “entertainment business” had prevented a UK tabloid newspaper from printing details of his extramarital affairs.

Referred to in court papers by the initials PJS (not his real initials), the reportedly “well known” individual is said to had some kind of “three-way sexual encounter” with another couple more than four years ago. This, while being married to his partner, YMA, also in the entertainment business.

The third-party couple (referred to as AB and CD) approached the UK’s Sun on Sunday newspaper in January this year and revealed details of their encounter with PJS. The paper then contacted PJS’s lawyer, at which point a legal battle ensued.

On January 18, lawyers for PJS and YMA applied for an order against Sun on Sunday preventing it from printing the story. The High Court rejected the demand but did hand down an interim order blocking publication while the pair filed an appeal (pdf)

The Court of Appeal subsequently ruled that the Sun on Sunday cannot publish the story because the entertainer had an expectation that his sexual encounters should remain a private matter. Inevitably, however, there are plenty of people who believe it should not.

The Sun on Sunday is determined to publish the story whenever it can but in the meantime the celebrity couple have been named countless times on social media and in dozens of press articles, including in Scotland, Europe, the United States and Canada.

So what, if anything, can be done about that? According to a BBC report citing Desmond Browne QC, the lawyer for PJS, “remarkable efforts” are taking place to remove the story from Twitter and Google. That can now be confirmed, at least in respect of the latter.

Usually dealing with the business of having copyright-infringing content taken down from the Internet, UK-based copyright takedown outfit Web Sheriff is well known in file-sharing circles. However, the company has also branched out to offer a number of additional services, including “Privacy Protection – reputation management.”

These activities rarely come into the public eye but it appears that Web Sheriff has recently been negotiating with Google to have sensitive content removed from its indexes. The matter in question can be found in the search giant’s Transparency Report where it’s listed under a fairly obvious heading.

web-sheriff-take

As can be seen from the image above, Web Sheriff targeted 174 URLs in two batches, one on April 4 and the other on April 11. In total the anti-piracy outfit sent seven notices to Google but interestingly the search giant has taken no action on the overwhelming majority.

web-sheriff-take2

Why Google has taken no action is unclear but it’s possible that as an overseas company Google may not feel bound to remove the links. It’s also possible that the complaint was filed with Google as a copyright request and therefore does not meet the criteria for removal.

In any event, most links are now reaching “content not found” pages on various news resources, so there’s probably very little for Google to remove. This raises another topical point.

While Google is often portrayed as being able to do a lot to stop infringing (or in this case sensitive) content being made available via its search engine, it’s a lot more effective to have content taken down at the source. It seems likely that Web Sheriff has being doing just that and on the whole appears to have done a pretty good job.

But of course the big question is whether it was all worth it.

While news outlets are now waiting for a judgment set to be handed down Monday which could allow them to name the couple, their names are already all over the Internet. What started off as a story that would probably have been forgotten in a few days, has now transformed into a battle of international interest that has already failed in its key aim.

In the meantime, those who have ignored the injunction have been feeling the heat. A blogger who named the pair online says he’s been threatened by the entertainer’s legal team but doesn’t really care.

“It’s a massive Streisand effect. Now I am fielding calls from European tabloids,” he said.

“I told [PJS’s legal team] to take it where the sun doesn’t shine. There’s no bricks and mortar in the UK, there’s no printing press in the UK, there’s no server in the UK.”

The all-important hearing will be heard in open court on Monday after Lord Justice Jackson ruled that the case addresses matters of public interest.

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