Google is planning to appeal a ruling by the British Columbia Supreme Court ordering the search engine giant to erase certain results from internet searches around the world.
Because the ruling applies to all of Google’s search results worldwide, and not just search results in Canada, legal experts say the decision could have major international ramifications.
Some say it potentially opens the door to courts in any country claiming the right to control what internet users see around the world.
In ruling on Equustek Solutions v. Jack last week, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered Google to remove links to the website of a company that had been found to have stolen trade secrets from a competitor.
Google had previously agreed to remove results for that company from the Google.ca portal, but not from other Google search portals, such as Google.com.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon declared in her ruling that, because Google sells ads in B.C. and targets ads to B.C. residents, the court has jurisdiction over the company.
“I don’t know if the court took into account the full potential impact of this when it issued its decision,” Tamir Israel, a lawyer with the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, told the Vancouver Sun.
Israel suggested the ruling could open the door to countries demanding censorship of search results so they can quash political dissent.
E-commerce law professor Michael Geist went further on his blog.
“What happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database? The possibilities are endless since local rules of freedom of expression often differ from country to country,” Geist wrote.
That’s taking the argument too far, says Robert Fleming, the lawyer representing Equustek Solutions, which won the court case.
Fleming told the Globe and Mail courts would never extend the ruling to such extremes, and argued that the case is a trademark dispute, and not a free speech battle.
Courts will often cite rulings from other countries when setting legal precedents. For instance, in this court case, the judge cited a ruling by the European Court of Justice last month that similarly claimed jurisdiction over Google.
In that case, the court ruled Europeans have a “right to be forgotten,” and Google must remove results from European searches at the request of individuals.
But some legal experts say the B.C. ruling goes farther than that, as it pertains to Google search results around the world.
Google, which had argued the B.C. court had no jurisdiction over its global operations, has 14 days as of last Friday’s ruling to comply with the court order.
But the company said in an emailed statement to the Vancouver Sun it plans to appeal the ruling to the B.C. Court of Appeal, noting it was “disappointed” with the judge’s decision.
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