Canada: Supreme Court Of Canada Upholds Order For Google To Block Search Results Globally

Last Updated: July 24 2017
Article by Erin Creber

The Supreme Court of Canada recently issued its decision Google v Equustek (2017 SCC 34) upholding the British Columbia Court of Appeal's decision to grant an interlocutory injunction requiring Google, a non-party to the underlying action, to block certain search results on its Internet search engine on a worldwide basis. In granting the appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada has held it is within the power of Canadian courts to issue injunctions with extraterritorial effect, so long as it is just and equitable to do so. This is an important decision for intellectual property owners, as it provides a new mechanism to combat infringers.

Background

Equustek is a small technology company based in British Columbia that brought an action against its distributor, Datalink. Datalink had re-labelled one of Equustek's products and was passing it off as its own. Datalink also acquired confidential information and trade secrets belonging to Equustek and was using this information to design and manufacture a competing product.

The Court issued an interlocutory order prohibiting Datalink from selling its inventory and using any of Equustek's intellectual property. However, Datalink continued to carry on business from an unknown location, and sell its infringing products via the Internet to customers around the world.

To prevent Datalink from continuing its infringing activities, Equustek approached Google, and requested that Google de-index (i.e. block from search results) all of Datalink's websites promoting the sale of Datalink's counterfeit goods.

Google initially refused the request, complying only once a Court order was issued. Pursuant to its internal policies, Google voluntarily blocked individual webpages but not entire websites. Further, Google only blocked Canadian search results.

Datalink easily circumvented the measures taken by Google by simply moving the objectionable content to new webpages within its websites. Throughout this time, Datalink webpages remained available on Google's non-Canadian search engines, e.g. Google.com.

Consequently, Equustek sought, and was awarded, an order requiring Google to block all Datalink websites globally.

The Decision

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the British Columbia Court of Appeal's ruling that Google must block all Datalink websites on a worldwide basis.

In reaching this decision, the Court considered the RJR MacDonald v Canada three-part test for granting an interlocutory injunction. It was held (i) there was a serious issue to be tried, (ii) irreparable harm would result if the injunction was not granted, and (iii) the balance of convenience did favour granting the injunction.

Justice Abella recognized that the infringing activities in this case were occurring globally, as the Internet has no borders. Google was deemed to be a determinative player in allowing harm to occur to Equustek as a result of Datalink's activities. Upholding the order against Google was deemed necessary to prevent the irreparable harm that flowed from Datalink carrying on business on the Internet, a business which would be commercially impossible without Google's facilitation.

Regarding the balance of convenience, the Court rejected Google's arguments that an injunction cannot be directed at a non-party, an injunction with extraterritorial effect would violate comity, and that the injunction in this case was in effect a permanent injunction. In doing so, the Court indicated that it was within Google's power to seek an order varying the injunction if there was any risk that compliance with the injunction would violate the laws of another jurisdiction.

Conclusion

This decision confirms that Canadian courts have the ability to issue interlocutory injunctions directed against non-parties, and signifies the Supreme Court of Canada supports the broad implementation of such injunctions, provided it is just and equitable to do so.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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