Last month’s Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding a global takedown order requiring Google to remove search results on an international basis sparked widespread concern from civil liberties and digital rights groups who fear the implications for freedom of expression online (the case was celebrated by IP rights groups who now envision using Canada as the base for global takedowns). My initial post on the decision argued that the Court had failed to grapple with the elephant in the room, namely the broader implications of global takedowns and the likelihood of conflicts:
The Supreme Court of Canada did not address the broader implications of the decision, content to limit its reasoning to the need to address the harm being sustained by a Canadian company, the limited harm or burden to Google, and the ease with which potential conflicts could be addressed by adjusting the global takedown order. In doing so, it invites more global takedowns without requiring those seeking takedowns to identify potential conflicts or assess the implications in other countries.
The prospect of global conflicts has now come to the Equustek case with Google filing suit in a federal court in California asking the court to block enforcement the Canadian order on the grounds that it violates the U.S. constitution and federal laws.
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The release of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Google v. Equustek decision attracted global attention with many rightly focused on the implications of global takedown orders for freedom of speech online (my post on the case here, Daphne Keller, EFF, Howard Knopf, Techdirt). The decision raises serious concerns as it invites courts around the world to issue global takedown orders that will likely lead to increased incidents of legal conflicts. That could vest enormous power in the hands of intermediaries such as Google, which will either remove links to content that is lawful in some countries or pick and choose among the orders they are willing to follow.
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The Supreme Court of Canada released its much-anticipated Google v. Equustek decision today, upholding the validity of an injunction requiring Google to remove search results on an international basis. The 7-2 decision (Justices Côté and Rowe dissented, finding that there were alternatives available, the order is ineffective, and expressing concern that the “temporary” injunction was effectively permanent) is not a surprise – last week’s Facebook’s decision suggested a willingness to side with the weaker Canadian litigant against Internet giants – but the decision will ultimately grant Google more power, not less.
Google will obviously abide the ruling, but as I noted last year, what happens if a Chinese court orders it to remove Taiwanese sites from the index? Or if an Iranian court orders it to remove gay and lesbian sites from the index? Since local content laws differ from country to country, there is a great likelihood of conflicts. That leaves two possible problematic outcomes: local courts deciding what others can access online or companies such as Google selectively deciding which rules they wish to follow. The Supreme Court of Canada did not address the broader implications of the decision, content to limit its reasoning to the need to address the harm being sustained by a Canadian company, the limited harm or burden to Google, and the ease with which potential conflicts could be addressed by adjusting the global takedown order. In doing so, it invites more global takedowns without requiring those seeking takedowns to identify potential conflicts or assess the implications in other countries.
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Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in a case that strikes at the heart of law in the online world. Google v. Equustek Solutions stems from claims by Equustek, a Canadian company, that another company used its trade secrets to create a competing product and engaged in misleading tactics to trick users into purchasing it.
After struggling to get the offending company’s website taken offline, Equustek obtained a British Columbia court order requiring Google to remove the site from its search index. Google voluntarily removed search results for the site from Google.ca search results, but was unwilling to block the sites from its worldwide index. The B.C. court affirmed that the order applied on an international basis, however, issuing what amounted to global takedown order.
The Supreme Court hearing, which attracted intervenors such as the Wikimedia Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the music and movie industry associations, focused on issues such as the effectiveness of a Google-targeted order, where the responsibility for identifying conflicting laws should lie, and the fairness of bringing an innocent third-party such as Google into the legal fray.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that largely missing from the discussion was an attempt to grapple with perhaps the biggest question raised by the case: In a seemingly borderless Internet, how do courts foster respect for legal rules and avoid vesting enormous power in the hands of Internet intermediaries who may ultimately find themselves picking and choosing among competing laws.
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The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in Google v. Equustek Solutions, a hugely important Internet case with implications for Internet jurisdiction and free speech online. I wrote about the lower court and appellate court decisions and I have a forthcoming piece in the Communications of the ACM on the case. I attended yesterday’s hearing and live tweeted some of the main exchanges between counsel and the court. As my final tweet of the hearing indicated, I have no idea where the court is heading in this case. A storified version of my hearing tweets is posted below.
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