A US federal court on Friday issued a preliminary injunction against a Canadian Supreme Court ruling, which asked Google to de-index certain search results not just in Canada but on a global basis.
The Canadian ruling “undermines the policy goals of Section 230 [of the US Communications Decency Act] and threatens free speech on the global internet,” wrote Judge Edward Davila of the US District Court for Northern California.
The ruling pertains to the case Google v. Equustek, which started with a 2011 complaint from the company Equustek Solutions. The British Columbia firm charged that a group of Equustek distributors (known as the Datalink defendants) were selling counterfeit Equustek products online.
Datalink continued to sell these goods globally, even after the court ordered it to stop, prompting Equustek to ask Google to intervene. Google initially de-indexed 345 specific webpages associated with Datalink on google.ca.
Equustek then sought an injunction to stop Google from displaying any part of the Datalink websites on any of its search results worldwide. A lower court granted the injunction, and the Canadian Supreme Court upheld it. The ruling’s global implications elicited concern from freedom of speech advocates.
Google asked the US District Court for Northern California to intervene, arguing that Canada’s ruling was “repugnant” to the rights established by the First Amendment and the Communications Decency Act. Furthermore, the company said it “violates principles of international comity, particularly since the Canadian plaintiffs never established any violation of their rights under U.S. law.”
Now that the US District Court has intervened, Google can seek a permanent injunction and ask the Canadian court to modify its original order, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, wrote on Friday that the US ruling “is precisely what critics of the Supreme Court ruling feared with the prospect of conflicting rulings, protracted litigation, and legal uncertainty becoming a reality.”
He continued, “By upholding global takedowns without fully grappling with the implications, the Supreme Court effectively invited other courts to issue conflicting decisions without guidance on how to best resolve the issue.”