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British Columbia courts ruling latest in string of global rulings challenging Google’s autonomy
In a major ruling that could set a precedent for government censorship of Internet search results, a Canadian appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling requiring Google to block search results to a shady website accused of violating technology trademarks.
The British Columbia Court of Appeals—the province’s highest court—dismissed Google’s attempt to have an injunction against them overturned. According to court documents, the three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the lower court that initially granted the injunction last June didn’t overstep its jurisdictional authority in ordering the Internet giant to censor search results worldwide.
This latest ruling stems from a case filed in 2011 by Vancouver-based industrial networking company Equustek Solutions. Equustek sued Datalink Technologies Gateways for allegedly copying Equustek’s trademark-protected products and selling them online. After Datalink, which operates mostly online, stopped responding to court orders, the lower court eventually filed an injunction against Google to block Datalink from showing up in search results, an effort to prohibit them from doing business.
But Google attorney’s appealed this ruling, and argued that the court went beyond its authority. A key part of their claim is that Google is a foreign company with no offices, servers, or employees in British Columbia. Google attorneys also claimed that they were being unfairly punished for the actions of Datalink.
In the appeals court’s ruling however, the judges say the lower court did have jurisdiction, citing the fact that Google sells targeted advertisements to local companies in British Columbia. The judges also cited the fact that Datalink sells to mostly countries customers outside of Canada as enough reason to make the injunction apply worldwide.
For Google, the stakes of this case go far beyond mere trademark infringement. In recent years, courts around the world have made a number of rulings pushing against the search giant’s autonomy.
Google, of course, fights vehemently against them. Last year, it lobbied hard against a European case advocating the so-called “right to be forgotten.” Ultimately, Google acquiesced to a European Union court ruling, and now allows European citizens to file individual claims to have outdated and harmful information about themselves blocked from Google search results.
But according to Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor who spoke to the Globe and Mail, the British Columbia court’s ruling sets a concerning precedent about the ability of judges in various jurisdictions around the world to make sweeping rulings that fundamentally alter the Internet for users around the globe.
“I think it’s troubling that we see courts and now Canadian courts joining a trend of issuing orders involving the Internet that, by design, have an impact far beyond their jurisdiction,” Geist said.
Google’s attorneys haven’t announced yet whether they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.