United States: The Coming Border Wars: U.S. Court Decision Refusing To Enforce Canadian Court Order Highlights The Growing Balkanization Of The Internet

Does a search engine operator have to delist websites hosting, without authorization, your trade secret materials or other intellectual property? The answer may depend on where you sue—just ask Google. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently handed the company a victory over plaintiff Equustek Solutions Inc. in what has turned into an international battle where physical borders can have very real consequences on the Internet.

The dispute began when a rival company, Datalink, allegedly misappropriated Equustek's trade secrets in developing competing products. Equustek also alleged that Datalink misled customers who thought they were buying Equustek products. In 2012, Equustek obtained numerous court orders in Canada against Datalink. Datalink refused to comply, and Canadian court issued an arrest warrant for the primary defendant, who has yet to be apprehended.

In September 2012, Equustek asked Google to delist search results for Datalink; Google declined this request. Equustek then sought a court order against Google in Canada and prevailed, resulting in Google removing 300 Datalink websites from search results generated by the Canadian version of its site, located at www.google.ca. Google, however, did not take similar steps with respect to U.S. and other non-Canadian versions of its site, so the Datalink websites continued to appear in search results conducted by users outside of Canada.

Equustek returned to the Canadian court, this time to seek an order compelling Google to remove the Datalink-related search results globally so that Datalink results would not appear for any Google users, regardless of their location. Equustek once again prevailed, and Google appealed to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. That court, and later the Supreme Court of Canada, affirmed the trial court's order.

Google then brought the battle to the United States; in July 2017, it commenced an action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment that the Canadian court order cannot be enforced in the United States and an injunction against the enforcement of such order. (Equustek did not submit an opposition brief.)

In support of its preliminary injunction motion, Google's primary arguments were that the Canadian order (1) ignores the Communication Decency Act's immunity for interactive service providers (2) directly conflicts with the First Amendment and (3) violates principles of international comity.

In evaluating Google's motion, a significant portion of the court's analysis addressed the likelihood of Google's success on the merits. The court focused on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Citing the Ninth Circuit's en banc decision in the Roommates.com case, the court noted that Section 230 "immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties."

The court found that Google met all three requirements to qualify for Section 230 immunity. First, the court noted that there is no question as to whether Google is a "provider" or an "interactive computer service," citing previous cases that had so held and noting that the term "interactive computer service" can mean any information service, system or access software provider that allows multiple users to access a computer server.

Second, the court noted that the way that Google's web caching and search result aggregation process works makes it such that Datalink—and not Google—is the entity "providing" the information in question. The court characterized Google's role as that of a passive intermediary providing access to the material in question.

Finally, the court found that enforcement of the Canadian order would hold Google liable as "publisher or speaker" of the infringing material on Datalink's websites. The court quoted the Supreme Court of Canada's justification for the order, which characterized Google as "the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur," and observed that the Ninth Circuit considers any claim requiring an intermediary to remove third-party content as treating that intermediary as a publisher.

Turning to the remaining three factors for granting a preliminary injunction—irreparable harm, balance of the equities and the public interest—the court sided with Google on all three factors.

It found that depriving Google of Section 230 protection harmed Google, and that the balance of equities favors Google because the injunction would deprive it of the benefits of U.S. federal law.

It also noted that granting Google's requested injunction would serve the public interest in that it would be in keeping with Congress's finding that tort liability for websites' hosting third-party content would severely limit free speech on the Internet. The court pointed out that Section 230 was specifically enacted in service of this proposition and underscored the fact that a strong policy in favor of fostering free speech online would be hampered by holding Google responsible for the third-party material it displays in its search results.

According to the court, "The Canadian order would eliminate Section 230 immunity for service providers that link to third-party websites . . . [and] undermines the policy goals of Section 230 and threatens free speech on the global internet."

The court's decision highlights the power of the Section 230 safe harbor and its critical role in facilitating the free flow of information online. However, if we step back to look at the larger issue, the Google-Equustek dispute—having generated conflicting court decisions in Canada and the United States—suggests that we may be moving toward an increasingly patchwork Internet rather than the borderless, monolithic information superhighway of the past few decades.

In the near future, what you see online may depend on where you live.

Further, as the Internet becomes more Balkanized, we may see situations where the strictest, most burdensome portion of the patchwork seeks to force all of the others to follow in its stead. Case in point: Europe's emerging "right to be forgotten." At first, in response to EU consumers seeking to exercise this right, Google had offered to scrub relevant search results from EU-versions of its website, but, following continued pressure from the EU, it agreed to filter the results shown to EU residents regardless of which version of the Google site they searched (so that, for example, Google.com would show the same scrubbed results to an EU resident as Google.fr). According to France, however, this arrangement is still not enough, and Google should scrub the results globally—even for users who reside in the many countries that do not recognize the right to be forgotten.

What comes of this fight has yet to be known, but what is unmistakable is the slow and steady shift to an Internet that differs across borders. As this shift continues, U.S. laws aimed at facilitating online speech—such as Section 230 and the DMCA's copyright safe harbors—are increasingly likely to butt heads with other countries' laws seeking to regulate and even censor online speech.

* * *

For other Socially Aware blog posts regarding the CDA Section 230 safe harbor, please see the following: Lawsuit Against Online Dating App Grindr Dismissed Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; 2018: Predictions From Socially Aware's Editors and Contributors; Snapchat Clocks Section 230 Win in Speed Filter Case; The Decline and Fall of Section 230?; In a Rough Year for CDA Section 230, Manchanda v. Google Provides Comfort to Website Operators; and Yelp Case Shows CDA §230 Still Has Teeth.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions