Google Convinces U.S. Court That Canadian Ruling Threatens Free Speech Globally

The tech giant gets injunctive relief in the latest round of the Equustek dispute, but does the ruling mean anything?
Adam Berry/Getty Images

Google has gotten what it wants. At least for now.

On Thursday, the tech giant convinced a California federal judge that it should not have to remove a website from its search engine. On the face of it, there's nothing surprising about this, except for the fact that it flies in the face of a ruling on June 28 by the Supreme Court of Canada. Thus, the stage is set for an international arm-wrestle.

The June 28 ruling represented a massive legal defeat for Google, which has resisted giving in to Equustek Solutions, a small Canadian tech company that claimed its intellectual property has been infringed by a one-time distributor. Cheered on by the entertainment industry, Canada's highest court affirmed a ruling ordering Google to remove an allegedly infringing website from its search engines worldwide

Google isn't done fighting.

In July, Google filed a new lawsuit in California with the aim of getting an American judge to issue injunctive relief on what the Canadians had done.

Equustek didn't bother to fight, and now, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila has issued an order that concludes that forcing Google to de-index a website would violate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties.

"The Canadian order would eliminate Section 230 immunity for service providers that link to third-party websites," writes Davila. "By forcing intermediaries to remove links to third-party material, the Canadian order undermines the policy goals of Section 230 and threatens free speech on the global internet."

The question is whether this newest decision (read here in full) means anything.

The Canadian court could ignore it and impose sanctions for Google for any failure to comply with its own injunctive order. As pointed out in our previous story, however, Google may be hoping to use the decision to force reconsideration up north. If there's any hope for Google, it comes in the part of the June 28 ruling that states, "If Google has evidence that complying with such an injunction would require it to violate the laws of another jurisdiction, including interfering with freedom of expression, it is always free to apply to the British Columbia courts to vary the interlocutory order accordingly."

Then again, as we further pointed out, losing one's rights and violating someone else's rights are potentially two separable concepts. An American court may agree with Google that an injunction abridges the tech company's free speech, but is there room for a Canadian court to nevertheless reiterate that complying won't cause Google to violate any American laws?

The answer to that question comes next.

comments powered by Disqus