In an unprecedented ruling, a B.C. court has ordered Google Inc. to block a group of websites from its worldwide search engine – a decision raising questions over how far one country’s courts can exert their power over the borderless Internet.
injunction, issued by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon on
June 13, came despite arguments from Google’s lawyers that Canada’s
courts did not have the jurisdiction to tell Google, based in Mountain
View, Calif., to block access to the websites anywhere in the world.
In an e-mailed statement, Google said it was disappointed in the
decision and said it would launch an appeal. It declined requests for an
Legal observers say the court order raises broader
questions – questions increasingly dogging judges around the world –
about just whose rules should prevail as the Internet continues to blur
or erase national borders.
It follows a landmark decision by the
European Union Court of Justice on the so-called “right to be forgotten”
that forces Google to take down certain information about private
individuals if asked.
The B.C. injunction, which orders Google to comply within 14 days, is part of a court fight launched by Burnaby, B.C.-based Equustek Solutions Inc., which makes and sells complex industrial networking devices.
to the ruling, the company alleges that a group of former associates
stole its trade secrets in order to manufacture competing products,
which they continue to sell through a network of websites, in “flagrant”
defiance of numerous previous court orders.
procedure would allow it to block search results for offending website
addresses on its Canadian website, Google.ca. But most of the
defendants’ sales occur outside Canada, the ruling says; even within
Canada, the defendants simply switched URLs, turning the exercise into
“an endless game of ‘whac-a-mole.’”
In her ruling, Justice Fenlon
determined the B.C. court had jurisdiction over Google, noting the
company sells ads in British Columbia and uses its search technology to
target those ads to British Columbians. She granted the plaintiffs an
injunction that she said no Canadian court had granted before.
is an innocent bystander but it is unwittingly facilitating the
defendants’ ongoing breaches of this Court’s orders,” her ruling reads.
Court must adapt to the reality of e-commerce with its potential for
abuse by those who would take the property of others and sell it through
the borderless electronic web of the internet,” she writes.
courts, and others around the world, have been increasingly extending
their reach across borders in a variety of areas. And Canadian courts
have in the past issued orders affecting people or entities outside its
borders, such as injunctions demanding the freezing of assets.
University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist slammed the recent
Google decision in a blog post on Tuesday, warning that it could lead to
other countries demanding Google censor content worldwide, putting free
speech at risk. “While the court does not grapple with this
possibility, 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?”
In an interview, Prof. Geist
said he agrees the court has jurisdiction over Google but disagrees that
it should have the power to issue an essentially global injunction:
“That seems to be to be a very dangerous overreach.”
Fleming, the lawyer for the Vancouver plaintiffs who won the injunction
against Google, said no court elsewhere in the world would recognize
such extreme orders against Google as those Prof. Geist suggests. Unlike
Prof. Geist’s hypothetical cases, Mr. Fleming said, his case is an
intellectual property dispute over which U.S. and other courts would
clearly recognize the B.C. court has jurisdiction – not a question of
And in his case, he said, the main defendant, Morgan
Jack, has repeatedly breached previous court orders and has failed to
show up for court proceedings. According to court documents, Mr. Jack
has “disappeared,” although his websites allegedly continue to operate.
has forced Mr. Fleming’s clients to take the steps they have against
Google. “Things happen so quickly and on the Internet they are so
borderless, the courts have to be able to adapt,” he said.