Forcing Google to develop amnesia is turning out to be contagious.
Likely inspired by Europeans winning the right to be forgotten in Google search results last month, a Canadian court has ruled that Google has to remove search results for a Canadian company’s competitor, not just in Canada but around the world.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled on 13 June that Google had two weeks to forget the websites of a handful of companies with “Datalink” in their names.
The plaintiff in the case, Equustek Solutions Inc., manufactures networking devices that allow different manufacturers’ complex industrial equipment to talk to each other.
Equustek maintains that the defendants started out as distributors for its products, but conspired with one of its former engineers and others, ripped off trade secrets and then went off to design and manufacture a competing product, the GW1000.
For years, Equustek says it’s been playing Whack-A-Mole.
Since 2012, the company’s given Google specific URLs – 345 in all – from which the defendants were selling the GW1000 in violation of court order.
But as soon as Google voluntarily blocked those sites, a whole host of new websites would be generated automatically and would move up the search rankings to take the place of the de-indexed sites.
Of course, questions of jurisdiction are always knotty, but even more so in the age of the internet, the BC court pointed out:
The defendants' blocked websites appear when searches are conducted from any country other than Canada, or when a search is conducted within Canada using a Google website other than www.google.ca.
Canada doesn’t have jurisdiction over anything but Canadian searches, Google argued.
But just stopping the GW1000 from showing up in .ca searches wouldn’t put a dent in the infringing products appearing in search results, particularly given that most of the product sales take place internationally.
When Google argued that Canadian law couldn’t be applied to the entire world, the court responded by citing British Columbia’s Law and Equity Act, which grants broad power for a court to issue injunctions when it’s “just or convenient that the order should be made.”
Google also tried to argue against the injunction on the basis of it amounting to censorship. The court responded that there are already entire categories of content that get censored, such as child abuse imagery.
Will this be the first of a new wave of requests for company website take-downs?
It wouldn’t be surprising if it were. As it is, Google reluctantly supplied Europeans with a “right to be forgotten form” in May.
By the end of the first day of that form going live, 12,000 Europeans had requested that their pasts be wiped out of Google search results, and the rate of requests was coming in steady at a pace of about 10,000 per day for the first few days.
Does the right of a company to squash its competitors’ websites signal a welcome new way to enforce copyright law? Does it entail creeping censorship? Both?