Earlier this year, we wrote about a troubling
set of cases in Europe filed by Max Mosley, the former head of the motorsports organization FIA. As you may recall, a few years back, Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper published some photos of Mosley's "rendezvous with five sex workers," who were dressed as prison guards, while he was dressed as a prisoner. NotW described the photos as a "Nazi orgy," which Mosley was extra-sensitive to, given that his father, Oswald Mosley, had been the head of the UK Fascist party, and a friend of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels (who both attended Oswald's wedding to Max's mother). Mosley sued on a variety of claims and won narrowly over the "Nazi" claim. Basically, while the images are apparently accurate, they were supposed to represent a generic German prison, rather than a Nazi
prison. The court also ruled that the release of the pictures violated his privacy.
Since then, Mosley has been on a campaign of censorship. He went to court trying to argue that newspapers should need to alert famous people
before publishing anything about them, giving them a chance to try to block such stories. Thankfully, that failed
. He also sought to influence the UK review of journalism (in the wake of that other, more well-known News of the World
scandal, involving hacking into voicemails).
He's also been suing Google
in various European countries, arguing that they need to somehow magically block out any instance of the photos of that orgy. Yes, Mosley thinks it's all Google's fault that these images still exist. He argues that:
if somebody were to stop the search engines producing the material, the actual sites don't really matter because without a search engine, nobody will find it, it would be just a few friends of the person who posts it. The really dangerous thing are the search engines.
Of course, it's not the search engines "producing the material." It's the search engines finding the content that others have posted. Unfortunately, a French court has sided with Mosley
and ordered Google to magically try to make those images disappear from the internet. This is both close to impossible technically, but also a restriction that will have significant unintended consequences. It will almost certainly block out legitimate content, including news coverage related to this story. For example, much of the news coverage of the lawsuits have included the images. Take, for example, this Gawker story
. Under the ruling in France, Google will now be forced to figure out how to censor links to such legitimate journalistic stories.
Yes, it's perfectly reasonable for Mosley to be upset about how all of this went down. And he appears to have received a large sum of money from News of the World about this. But going on this crusade won't stop the pictures from appearing on the internet (in fact, each time there's news about this, it only calls more attention to it), and worse, it will inevitably lead to false positives that censor legitimate content.
Google has already announced its intent to appeal, noting that it's wrong to hold a search engine responsible for policing the work of others. While the release of the original images may be illegal, blaming Google for the fact that such images can be found is supremely misguided.