Canada’s highest court sought to alter search results, but it won’t apply in US
A US federal judge has stopped a ruling from the Canadian Supreme Court from going into effect in the US. The Canadian order would have ordered Google to de-index all pages belonging to a company called Datalink, which was allegedly selling products that violated the IP of Vancouver-based Equustek.
When the order came down earlier this year, Google filed a lawsuit in US federal court seeking to render the Canadian order unenforceable stateside. Google called the Canadian order “repugnant” to the First Amendment, and it pointed out that the Canadian plaintiffs “never established any violation of their rights under US law.”
Equustek never showed up to defend itself in the US court case, making a Google victory all but assured.
On Thursday, US District Judge Edward Davila made it official, granting a preliminary injunction that will stop Equustek’s hard-won Canadian ruling from being enforced in the US. Davila held (PDF) that the order violated Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents online platforms from being held responsible for content posted by others.
Davila found that Google satisfied all the elements needed for Section 230 protection. “Datalink—not Google—’provides’ the information at issue,” Davila wrote. “Google’s search engine helps users discover and access content on third-party websites, but it does not ‘provide’ that content within the meaning of Section 230.”
An injunction against the Canadian order would not only protect Google but “serve the public interest,” Davila held. “[T]he Canadian order would hold Google liable as the ‘publisher or speaker’ of the information on Datalink’s websites… 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.”
Google also raised First Amendment arguments against the Canadian order. Davila didn’t consider those arguments, finding that Google had flat-out won the case on Section 230 grounds.
“We’re pleased with the court’s decision to uphold the legal principle that one country shouldn’t be able to decide what information people in other countries can access online,” Google Senior Product Counsel David Price told Ars in an e-mailed statement. “Undermining this core principle inevitably leads to a world where Internet users are subject to the most restrictive content limitations from every country.”
The spat began when Equustek, a Vancouver-based maker of networking devices, sued a former distributor called Datalink Technologies. Equustek accused Datalink of illegally relabeling products and stealing Equustek intellectual property to make its own products. Datalink left the province but continued to do business online, selling its products worldwide from an unknown location, according to Canadian courts.
Google was never a defendant in the case. Still, Equustek sought and ultimately got court orders forcing Google to de-index Datalink webpages. When the Canadian Supreme Court ruled on the case earlier this year, some called the ruling the “first global de-indexing order.”