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Intellectual Property

Worldwide block on Google results great news for rights holders

A Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding an order that Google block online content worldwide is great news for rights holders, says Toronto intellectual property lawyer Kevin Fisher.

The nation’s top court ruled the search giant must de-index web pages associated with a company alleged to have stolen trade secrets from a small B.C.-based technology company.

Google initially responded to the plaintiff’s complaints by removing the links from its search results on only its Canadian site, Google.ca, but the company obtained an injunction against its former distributor from the B.C. Supreme Court that extended the takedown order worldwide. The province’s appeal court upheld that ruling before Google took it all the way to the Supreme Court.  

“This is a huge step forward for combatting piracy and infringement in the internet age, and in my view, long overdue,” Fisher, a partner with Gardiner Roberts LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “It’s going to make a real impact to curb a problem that is already massive and continues to grow.”

Limiting the de-indexing to Canadian search results made skirting the ban so easy that the injunction could never have the intended practical effect, Fisher says.

“What’s encouraging is the recognition by the court of the need for this injunction to be more encompassing,” he says.

In her decision for the 7-2 majority, Justice Rosalie Abella wrote that the problem in the case before the court extended beyond Canadian frontiers.

“The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally,” she wrote. “If the injunction were restricted to Canada alone or to google.ca, the remedy would be deprived of its intended ability to prevent irreparable harm, since purchasers outside Canada could easily continue purchasing from [the defendant companies’] websites, and Canadian purchasers could find [the defendant’s] websites even if those websites were de-indexed on google.ca.”

Fisher, who often acts for the holders of broadcast rights when their copyright is violated online, hopes the decision will bolster injunction requests made on behalf of clients against search engines and internet service providers who enable infringement.

“There needs to be some sort of effective protection for IP rights,” he says.

Fisher says the concerns of the decision’s critics, who claim it curbs freedom online, are overblown.   

“Any time there’s an attempt to create some kind of legislative change or a court position that would help protect rights, they come out with doom and gloom messages. But when you look at the overall context of the case, and the intent of the injunction, I don’t think there’s much to worry about,” Fisher says.

“Lawlessness on the internet is good for nobody,” he adds.

Despite his encouragement at this result, Fisher says rights holders will likely still have work to do in future after obtaining similar injunctions.

“There’s a good chance that pirates will try to get around whatever types of blocks are in place, so it could require an ongoing game of whack-a-mole to implement the order. But Google hasn’t suggested it will be too expensive or complicated for them to comply,” he says.   

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