Google Asks US Court To Block Terrible Canadian Supreme Court Ruling On Global Censorship

from the jurisdictional-mess dept

Going back to the earliest days of Techdirt, we wrote numerous times about what a jurisdictional mess the internet was for various laws and legal regimes. But, even so, decades later, it's still pretty shocking just how messy Google's dispute over global censorship with Canadian courts has become. Last month, we wrote about a positively terrible decision in the Canadian Supreme Court, which upheld an appeals court and a district court, ruling that a Canadian court could order a site to block access to content on a global basis. The lawsuit itself, brought by a company called Equustek against another company apparently selling knockoff/counterfeit equipment, pulled Google into its orbit when the court ordered Google, as a non-party in the case -- to block access worldwide to sites managed by the defendant in the lawsuit (who never showed up in court).

Google pointed out (quite reasonably) that Canadian courts don't have jurisdiction over the global internet any more than a Chinese or Iranian or Russian court would have jurisdiction across the globe. Over and over again, the Canadian courts more or less ignored the issue, saying, "doesn't matter, block it, this is bad stuff." We've discussed at great length the dangers of such a decision, so we won't rehash it now -- go read the previous posts, if you want to review that argument.

But here's where things get... odd. Most people assumed that this was the end of the road on this case. The Supreme Court in Canada is the top of the chain. There was no appeal. Google could (and probably will, if it hasn't already) petition the Canadian government to clarify the law on this. And it may push for clauses in trade agreements that block this sort of thing as well. Some even argued that Google might be able to make an "ISDS" claim out of this (though, that would be messy...). But, apparently, Google felt it had one more way to crack this nut: it has filed for declaratory relief in the US.

In short, Google is going to a US court and saying, "this ruling in Canada is offensive to our laws and Constitution, and you should block the Canadian courts from enforcing it." This is... fascinating from a legal geek standpoint. We do have the SPEECH Act, which bars foreign judgments being enforced in the US when it would go against the First Amendment, but this is slightly different. Google is arguing that a US court should, at the very least, stop Canada from being able to enforce the blockade in the US, because that violates both the First Amendment and Section 230 of the CDA.

This Court has personal jurisdiction over the Defendants because, inter alia, the Defendants have knowingly engaged in a course of conduct whereby they sought and obtained injunctive orders in the Equustek v. Jack litigation in Canada that are expressly aimed at requiring Google to undertake actions in the United States—specifically, to delist search results in the United States and throughout the world. In November 2012 Equustek served Google with a Notice of Application to the British Columbia court at Google’s offices in Mountain View, California. Equustek thereafter renewed the Application for a delisting injunction on May 13, 2013; sought and obtained a trial court injunction on June 13, 2014; and maintained its position adverse to Google through the Canadian appellate process. The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in its June 28, 2017 opinion that the Canadian order was intended to require Google to take steps where its search engine is controlled—namely, California.

And here's where things get really interesting. The Canadian Supreme Court ruling argued that the "harm" presented by Google up north was merely "theoretical" rather than real. However, Google wants the US court to rule that such an injunction violates the First Amendment and Section 230 of the CDA... at which point the harm is no longer theoretical because it will have a court ruling showing that the blockade has actually censored speech.

Of course, this may lead to a long fight in the US, which may also lead to many years of appeals and whatnot -- and the end result may be... who the hell knows what? What happens when you have two court systems in two different countries completely at odds with one another, with one claiming sovereignty over actions taken in the other's territory (and everywhere else)? One would think that the US would win out in that situation, but... it's kind of uncharted waters. And that by itself reinforces the very point that Google was trying to make, and which three levels of Canadian courts brushed off as no big deal. Clearly, this is going to be a case worth following, as the question of court jurisdiction on the internet gets more and more... fascinating.


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  1. icon
    Bergman (profile), 29 Jul 2017 @ 2:59am

    I wonder if we could sue Google.ca

    On the grounds that allowing search results to find Canada's LGBTQ laws on their government websites and people's personal websites in favor of LGBTQ issues, would violate laws in a number of countries -- Iran, Russia and the UAE to name a few -- and get those delisted.

    And then there's the funny part of that -- such a delisting would violate Canada's laws against censoring such viewpoints and government information.

    If a court's decision truly is global, then a foreign court could issue orders that would be binding in Canada.

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