back to article Google ordered to tear down search results from its global dotcom by French court

In one of the first rulings of its kind, a French court last month ordered Google to remove links to defamatory information from its search results globally. Up to now, most rulings have limited themselves to the local top level domain – such as Google.fr. However, the decision of the High Court in Paris was that this would be …

  1. Pisartis
    Devil

    Time to show the politicians (and in places like France, that includes the judges) the only language they all understand:

    The middle finger.

    1. Raumkraut

      And they'll show your middle finger a "contempt of court" ruling.

      Companies should either obey the law, or get out of the region.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Devil

        Let them use Froggle

        Companies should either obey the law, or get out of the region.

        Cut French IP addresses off from Google search?

        I support this.

      2. Oninoshiko

        Contempt of court

        I suppose the court can freeze all the french assets... how extensive are google's french assets, I wonder.

    2. jake Silver badge

      @Pisartis

      The middle finger? Wrong gesture. Two fingers, Shirley? We are discussing the French, after all. (Y,y,y I know ... )

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong

      It is the V sign made with the index and middle fingers, originally done to prove you still have your longbow string pulling fingers.

      See Harvey Smith

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Adam 1

      >Time to show the politicians (and in places like France, that includes the judges) the only language they all understand:

      I thought they were using the language of retreat quite well.

  2. DaLo

    "remove links to defamatory information"

    Erm? Surely they should just demand the removal of the defamatory information. Why get Google to remove it from .com and .fr if you can still access it through .co.uk. and then the court would need to ask Bing and all the other search engines to remove it.

    If the information is defamatory the site where the information is written and the person who wrote it are surely the ones breaking the law, not a search engine that indexes what is publicly available on the internet?

    1. Graham 24

      That would be the sensible thing to do. Two problems with that:

      1) The court rulings are being made by judges, and supported by politicians, who think that "Google" and "the internet" are the same thing.

      2) Getting the underlying site to remove the content is much more difficult. If it wasn't, the record labels, media companies etc. would have removed all pirated content a long time ago. Going after a big company is much easier, and makes it *look like* the problem is being addressed.

      1. DaLo

        It's a bit different to pirated content in this context though. Movies, music etc are hosted by thousands of sites and a peer-to-peer network. I would presume this content is on one site (or maybe a couple). If it was on many sites or likely to be moved around as soon as one site closed down (as with pirated content) then ordering a link to be removed would be a never ending recursive process anyway.

        I would presume a defamatory case could only be heard on and ruled on if the defendant could be traced and have a right to defend themselves.

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        I wonder if it might be that the allegedly defamatory information is hosted on a web site that is beyond the reach of French law, so they picked on a company with a French footprint.

        It also might be easier, in France, to obtain a judgment against Google, a foreign company, and better yet an American one, with no particularly well-established rights, than against a French or other European company, with established rights in law, who actually put the allegedly defamatory information into the public arena.

        I think it is unlikely that the U. S. court system would sustain an order that Google remove the links. Perhaps Google should filter the links for queries originating in France and concurrently cut off all French users from Google.<not-fr>.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re-read the article please:

      "Why get Google to remove it from .com and .fr if you can still access it through .co.uk."

      One of the 1st lines in the article...

      "Google to remove links to defamatory information from its search results globally."

      And who says Bing is referencing it? Even if they are, you take out the biggest search engine then work down.

      1. Adam Foxton

        How about a war metaphor

        If I want to destroy a city, I don't start by bombing cartography offices. Erasing every map reference in the world for a city doesn't affect that city except making it harder to bomb in future.

        The courts should be mandating the removal of the information, so long as it's incorrect or untrue. Removing it from Google does nothing to remove the data.

        1. graeme leggett

          Re: How about a war metaphor

          hitting search engines is more like taking away every signpost that points to the hypothetical city (with a similar effect to ripping up the roads and railways) until all that's left is a few locals that remember "there used to be a city over that away".

          That said, the target of the defamed person's ire ought to be the site with the actual data on it, and then google's cache etc

          1. DropBear
            Devil

            Re: How about a war metaphor

            The court rulings are being made by judges, and supported by politicians, who think that "Google" and "the internet" are the same thing.

            Ok, so who's up for a campaign of sending "I R BABOON" t-shirts to the judge in question...?

      2. DaLo

        One of the 1st lines in the article...

        "Google to remove links to defamatory information from its search results globally."

        .co.uk is not a global domain it is a regional domain. The headline states "Google ordered to tear down search results from its global dotcom". The global dotcom is .com.

        Otherwise they would've asked Google to remove it from their global dotcom and every one of their regional domains. Unless you can translate the ruling better then I don't think they did.

        Even if they are, you take out the biggest search engine then work down.

        Yes, that's what I said they would have to do, ridiculous isn't it (that will involve an awful lot of court cases and a lot of wasted court time)?

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          The global dotcom is .com.

          Not really. This is a Verisign-administered TLD local to the US.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "If the information is defamatory the site where the information is written and the person who wrote it are surely the ones breaking the law, not a search engine that indexes what is publicly available on the internet?"

      The linked report suggests that the plaintiffs went after Google on the right to be forgotten basis. If they only cited Google and not the original page publishers then the court can only rule against Google. Maybe the plaintiffs thought that RTBF was an easier case to prove than libel against the original sites - and maybe less likely to invoke the Streisand effect.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @DaLo

      "Surely they should just demand the removal of the defamatory information. "

      I'm sure they would if they could. But repeating a slander is still slander so Google is culpable under that law and the court is well within its rights to tell Google not to repeat the slander in its jurisdiction. The URL or indeed the origin of the page and the data is not relevant, only the destination and place of publication - i.e., France.

      This is a classic case of "But...but... our business model is to ignore the law" which is behind so many Internet fortunes. Wouldn't work for you or me, so why should it work for Google?

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: @DaLo

        hogwash.

        Google isn't repeating the slander, they are just saying "that guy over there it talking about it."

        Furthermore, Google is following french law on their french site. That court is over-extending it's purview, unless you think all regional laws should be applied globally. If so, I need to invest in some burqa factories.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @DaLo

          @Oninoshiko

          "Google isn't repeating the slander, they are just saying "that guy over there it talking about it.""

          If I say to you "Who's that guy that raped the hotel maid in New York and got away with it?" and you supply an answer as well as a link to a story, then you're repeating the accusation. Google doesn't just provide links, it answers questions with a little snippet and the link. In other words, it's a publisher. And in the example I've just given Google's very first result has the name in the heading of the first two results, and the body text of several other results on the first page, all readable without going to the sites Google are quoting. That, legally, is obviously republishing a slander (well, a libel, to be technical).

          "Furthermore, Google is following french law on their french site. That court is over-extending it's purview, unless you think all regional laws should be applied globally."

          It's not asking for the law to be applied globally, just in France. The Google website is showing information to people in France; the court is not asking nor caring what it does for people not in France. If you publish a magazine and distribute it worldwide you have to worry about this. Google and others want to live in a magic world where they are above the laws that govern everyone else.

          For decades big multinational Internet companies have cruised along on the myth that the Internet is somehow not a publishing vehicle. But not only is it such a thing, that's ALL it is. The Internet is a device for taking information from somewhere and providing it elsewhere. There's no need for special Internet laws, really, as we've had laws about publishing for centuries. The fact that they vary in different countries is just something companies have to cope with. Google can cry me a river if that means they make 1% less profit next year.

          1. Aedile
            Stop

            Re: @DaLo

            No. Google tells you where to find things kind of like a map. It then includes a snipet of the destination so you know you're probably picking the right one. Once again the map analogy: If I ask for Paris the map may want to show Paris, Texas and Paris, France. I do not feel this makes the map a publisher nor does it make it responsible for what goes on in either Paris. Google does NOT add commentary nor modify the information which also runs counter to your claim. Using your analogy you ask who did the rape and Google says these 50000000 people may know. You figure out which is best/right. Again. It doesn't provide one answer, nor does it claim it's right, nor does it modify the information.

            Finally, it depends on how you ask it be applied globally. If it applies to the .com domain with no other filters then people in other countries won't be able to see it. To block people in France from seeing the info on .com or .us then Google would have to filter/re-direct based on IP address and you know how well identifying users with IP addresses works.

    5. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      I agree, it is the original site publishing the deformation that should act. However, as many find out, once on the Internet, always on the Internet. Good or ill for many Google is the Internet. Remove it from the worldwide Google index and many will not be able to find it. After that you have the rump of the digerati who can be arsed to go and find it.

      There is logic in the ruling but it grates with my liberal (small L) tendencies.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chump change?

    Ignoring the horrendous typos...

    "It will face daily fines of &euro1,000 – which is chump change for the web goliath."

    £365,000 euros per year is hardly chump change. Still helps them make a loss in Europe (excluding Ireland), so less tax to pay. So a win for Google.

    1. FartingHippo
      Facepalm

      Re: Chump change?

      "Still helps them make a loss in Europe (excluding Ireland), so less tax to pay. So a win for Google."

      So you'd rather be paid £10k a year and avoid income tax than be taxed on £40k a year? It's a thought, I suppose...

  4. Raumkraut

    The only law is US law

    When Google comply with a US DMCA request, do they only remove the entry from their .us search results?

  5. Alister

    Please will someone send a memo to all the judicial members in all the EU countries. It's clear that they think Google hosts the whole internet, and as such should be the first point of contact when wanting content removed. WRONG!

    If there is a site or sites hosting defamatory content, then for fuck's sake go after the sites concerned to remove it, don't just try and hide it from users of Google.

    Will they be going after Bing, as well?, And if not, why not?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Bing

      "Will they be going after Bing, as well?"

      Not worth it. If they mention Bing in the court case people might actually visit the site to see what theyre talking about. Better for everyone just not to talk about it.

  6. John Robson Silver badge

    Dematory

    Surely if it's true - and a matter of record... then can not be libellous or defamatory.

    This is truly Orwellian news, although combined with the Streisand effect it has resulted in me being completely uninterested in one person's financial woes - and concerned about what politicians/judges are looking to hide via this precedent...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dematory

      Try rereading the article

      "However the information was itself lawful and accurate [in the Spanish case]. In the latest French case, the information that the links pointed to was found to be defamatory."

  7. jake Silver badge

    These Gauls are crazy.

    c.f. Asterix.

    Hint to the French: Once it's posted, and online, the cat is out of the bag. There is absolutely nothing you can do to sweep the worms back under the open stable door.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: These Gauls are crazy.

      However,

      If you lightly fry the cat in garlic and worm sauce right next to the stable door, you might deter other worms and cats from being swept in that direction.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: These Gauls are crazy.

        I think you owe me a new keyboard.

      2. Alistair
        Coat

        Re: These Gauls are crazy.

        Does that worm sauce include the kitty giblets or not?

        You might deter the kittehs and wurms, but if you're doing that in france you might end up with a crowd around your pan.

        (The one with the funny face mask and a handcart in the pocket please)

  8. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    There is going to come a point, sooner or later, where judges in different jurisdictions make conflicting demands about Google's global search results.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "There is going to come a point, sooner or later, where judges in different jurisdictions make conflicting demands about Google's global search results."

      So what?

  9. Archaon
    Big Brother

    Surely the source sites should be targeted rather than the indexer? It sounds to me as though this is just a lazy or cheaper method than targeting all of those source sites: "Why take hundreds of sites to court when we can just throw a sueball at Google?".

    Further to that if you do sue the index rather than the source why not sue Bing, Yahoo etc? Is it just that the precedent against Google has already been set in the EU, making them an easier target? Or are they just the "evil technology company flavour of the month (TM)" for the courts?

    Kill the source and the information dies. Kill the index and the information can just be found on another index. Granted Google, as the most used Western search engine, will nerf a lot of potential hits but even so it still leaves the source information open to a lot of traffic. Besides that, surely I'm not the only one who will use Bing (or any other search engine) on the odd occasion where Google's algorithims aren't working for me?

    1. cortland

      I'm thinking libraries of case law might be affected as well, but that would be like an injunction against Hell; they've got the cleverest lawyers.

  10. HarshKarma

    "At a Brussels event in June, attendees expressed surprise and disbelief when Marisa Jimenez, Google's privacy policy counsel, said that the Google.com domain would not be affected by the right-to-be-forgotten ruling, because it was not targeted at the EU in general."

    Not sure how Google's stance here could be legal?

    I am not a lawyer but if I imported something which didn't meet my country's safety standards then the company who imported it is still liable if something happened (not sure about the manufacturer). *

    If I view (import data) something which is not legal in my country via Google (the data importer) then surely they would still be liable - talk of "we didn't directly target your country" are surely irrelevant - they allowed access and therefore still must be liable (?) - I can understand if they tried to disallow access but were circumvented (US based VPN endpoint etc.) *

    Given the abopve, I would have expected the "right to be forgotten" to be based on the searcher's geo location rather than just which url you search from.

    (* I realise the analagy is not great but http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/29/net-us-ups-pharmacies-settlement-idUSBRE92S0DX20130329 (UPS to forfeit $40 million over illegal online pharmacy shipments) would tend to suggest that there may be some liabilty to Google.com here)

    1. Adam 1

      In your analogy, Google is not the importer. It is an index. Once you click to the link, the content is delivered from the source website. So the source website is the importer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Google is not the importer. It is an index. Once you click to the link, the content is delivered from the source website. So the source website is the importer."

        That would be more true if Google only presented a link, which is not the case.

        1. Tim Bates

          "That would be more true if Google only presented a link, which is not the case."

          Well they could provide you with a numbered listing, but how useful would that be? Any index needs to refer to the content it's talking about. The index in the back of a book has topic names with the page numbers, not just a listing of page numbers.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Well they could provide you with a numbered listing, but how useful would that be? Any index needs to refer to the content it's talking about. The index in the back of a book has topic names with the page numbers, not just a listing of page numbers."

            I was suggesting the possibility of presenting just the URL/link. So you type "Flyfishing", say, and Google presents a list of URLS with some text along the lines of "here's a list of pages where people are discussing this topic. At the moment it actually prints excerpts from the pages, which is one part of the problem. Of course, even the URL idea is a bit legally dodgy as you're still helping to spread the libel, so there's an abetting angle.

  11. Marcus Aurelius
    Pirate

    Google should get a declaratory judgement

    From a US court that all their search content on a US site is protected free speech unless determined otherwise by a US court.

    1. Durant Imboden

      Re: Google should get a declaratory judgement

      Back in 2003, in a decision about Search King, Inc. v. Google Technology, Inc., a U.S. district court judge wrote:

      "Page Rank is an opinion - an opinion of the significance of a particular web site as it corresponds to a search query. Other search engines express different opinions, as each search engine's method of determining relative significance is unique.....A statement of relative significance, as represented by the Page Rank, is inherently subjective in nature. Accordingly the Court concludes that Google's Page Ranks are entitled to First Amendment protection."

      (The judge apparently had some problems with terminology--e.g., "Page Rank" for "rankings"--and the lawsuit was about Google's right to rank or not rank the plaintiff's pages, but the "First Amendment protection" seems pretty clear.)

      1. Marcus Aurelius

        Re: Google should get a declaratory judgement

        Page Rank is Googles name for their ranking system.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Google should get a declaratory judgement

      I suspect that absent a formal treaty, approved by a 2/3 majority in the Senate, and enabling legislation, that is a non-issue. But lacking a specific controversy, I do not think U. S. courts would take up the issue at all.

  12. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Same as MS & USA judge

    Sadly this is as worrying as the issue of a USA judge ordering the data from MS Ireland, it is basically a power-grab where they feel that because "the internet" crosses their jurisdiction then they can apply judgements world-wide.

    How long before we get other countries ordering global removal of links that don't suit them?

    It may be unfortunate for the French individual to have defamatory things said, but they should take it up with the location of the comments as only a law there should apply to the other party.

    1. Alistair
      Coat

      Re: Same as MS & USA judge

      *cough*

      US court finding an Argentine Court in contempt of court?

      1. Graham 25

        Not the same

        The Argentinians agreed, in writing to US Court jurisdiction - specifically the NY courts, in a limited set of circumstances, for specific bonds. They then took advantage of this agreement to get a loan , and are now refusing to accept the jurisdiction they previously agreed to, purely because they don't like the consequences of sticking to the agreement - like repaying 100% of the borrowers on the same terms.

        This case is like the Argentinians trying to sell land on the Falkland Islands and getting all snippy when its pointed out the land isn't theirs.

  13. cortland

    Whoops!

    Is THIS article enough to be defamatory in France?

  14. Aedile
    Stop

    Sigh. Why do countries still try to foist their ideals/morals onto the rest of the world? Unless we want the lowest common denominator we ALL better hope Google tells them to piss off. If they fold on this point do they listen to Iran next who may want all pictures of uncovered women unsearchable? I'm sure the Iranian's "right" to not see such "offensive" pictures is every bit as legitimate as France's/EU's "right" to be forgotten.

  15. briesmith

    Worldwide Wotten Web

    How a Spanish lawyer ever managed to persuade the EU judges that he had a right for it to be forgotten that he was a crook is beyond parody.

    Clearly a decision that has nothing to do with jurisprudence rather one that is set firmly by the left-wing nature of the EU's culture where anything US and or UK in origin is the spawn of either the Great or the Little Satan.

    Unfortunately, as some contributors have pointed out, most countries would have something their courts and judges would object to.

    In the UK, for example, it is stories about celebrities indulging in some light-hearted nazi style cross-dressing, whips optional, actors indulging in public Ugandan practices in soft top cars, hood (head?) down, on major highways, comedians shoving mountains of south American organic substances up their noses and footballers lining up their sexual partners in neat rows to save time.

    I don't think Google can take on every country in the world big enough to demand it has its way. Sadly, for us all, It will have to do its best to comply.

    By the way there never was a French general called Napoleon and he never went to Belgium either. Germany were never in the UK in 1966 nor over it during the period 1940-1944. Any references to a chap called Stalin must surely be about the chap who partnered Dr Barnado in setting up the orphanage movement and Mao Tse Tung was a devoted father and small time author of handbooks.

  16. Riku

    Whither "les immortels"

    Surely the language fundamentalists at the Académie Française would simply insist the French simply would not use any English language website anyway?

    Or, given this ruling, they could simply insist every website in the world be in French as well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Whither "les immortels"

      Sadly, this is just another example of clueless people in power (a French judge this time) who don't understand the tech.

      This judge is attempting to order the electronic equivalent of pulping every newspaper that carries the defamatory information. Not so easy with an interweb.

      He or she would have better luck forcing the web site to publish a retraction.

      Next thing you know, we will hear cries from governments that all internet traffic needs to be filtered at international borders.

      1. kphair

        Re: Whither "les immortels"

        "This judge is attempting to order the electronic equivalent of pulping every newspaper that carries the defamatory information"

        Not really, it's more like ordering Google to be a policeman inside every single newsagents who, when you go towards the offending paper, steers you away by the elbow and says into your ear, "We don't want to be looking at that now sir, do we? Let's not cause a fuss..."

        What's to stop anyone going to the source of the defamatory information, copying and reposting it on blogs, usenet and in the comments sections of certain websites? Maybe someone from Microsoft will actually try this to see if they can get the French courts to remove every single website from Google's index!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Whither "les immortels"

        @AC "Not so easy with an interweb."

        Actually, it's easier with the Internet. Just block Google's IPs. You'd cut down their readership by a much larger percentage than you could ever hope to prevent reading an already published newspaper.

  17. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    A simple solution...

    ...at least from the point of view of Google is to geolocate search queries to the local, national domain only by forced redirection. That way, each country can apply its laws as it sees fit.

    Of course, this will piss off the users royally and may cause a backlash against both the local government and Google (who hold up their hands, and do a Gallic shrug while saying zut alors!)

  18. JLV

    next?

    Judge in Pakistan orders defamatory articles about Pakistani politicians and/or military taken off search.

    Really, why should the world care about French court judgments more than say Pakistani ones? This is just as obnoxious as US extra territorial meddlings.

  19. dmcq

    They can just control their own territory

    If the French want to stop seeing these things from google.com they should ban google.com from being accessed by any of their providers, and that's what Google should say to them to do. French citizens can get their government approved information from google.fr

    There's no way Google can censor its American operations for the sake of a European country. If the EU wants censorship like Russia and China then that is their own matter and I'm sure Google will try to fully support them in their censorship in their own territories.

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