Google wins a court battle

Judge rules in search giant's favor, dismissing copyright infringement lawsuit filed by e-book writer.

In a legal win for Google, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a writer who claimed the search giant infringed on his copyright by archiving a Usenet posting of his and providing excerpts from his Web site in search results.

The lawsuit was filed by Gordon Roy Parker, also known as Ray Gordon, who publishes his writings under the business name of Snodgrass Publishing Group. Parker, of Philadelphia, also posted a chapter of one of his e-books on the Usenet bulletin board network, a collection of thousands of discussion forums called newsgroups.

In his 2004 lawsuit against Google, Parker alleged that the search giant violated copyright law by automatically archiving a copy of his posting on Usenet and by providing excerpts from his Web site in search results.

However, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled on Friday that under case law, Google's activities, akin to those of an Internet Service Provider, do not constitute infringement (click for PDF of court documents).

"When an ISP automatically and temporarily stores data without human intervention so that the system can operate and transmit data to its users, the necessary element of volition is missing," the court said.

The ruling cited a January decision in the Field v. Google case in federal court in Nevada that of Web pages Google stores and offers as a part of many search results do not infringe copyright.

The ruling comes after a decision last month in which a federal judge in Los Angeles said that portions of Google's image search feature, which displays thumbnail versions of images found on adult photo site Perfect 10 and others, likely violate U.S. copyright law.

The search engine also faces copyright lawsuits filed last year by authors and publishers groups over its controversial Library Project book-scanning plans, and a lawsuit filed by Agence France-Presse and threat of litigation from the World Association of Newspapers for aggregating headlines and photos without permission or compensation.

In a legal blow to Google earlier this week, a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., said he would grant federal prosecutors at least part of their request for excerpts from Google's index of Web sites. Google is challenging a subpoena from the Department of Justice for a random sampling of Internet addresses and search queries that the DOJ says it needs to help defend a measure designed to hold Web sites liable if minors can access pornography on them.

In his lawsuit, Parker also claimed Google was liable for defamation because the search company archived allegedly defamatory messages posted by Usenet users and that Google was invading his privacy by creating an "unauthorized biography" of him, the court said. However, the court said Google is immune because it either archived or provided access to content that was created by a third party.

Most of the 11 claims in the lawsuit, which also included racketeering, negligence, abuse of process and civil conspiracy, were dismissed for failure to state a claim. Others were dismissed because Google was found not to be held liable under certain statutes.

The ruling also complained about the "rambling" and "unwieldy" lawsuit, which named "50,000 John Does" as defendants. Parker, a former paralegal, said he wrote the complaint himself and does not have a lawyer.

Parker said he will appeal the decision. "The court is confused about what cache means," he said in a telephone interview. "Google really is a third-party republication."

"Google takes my content, uses it to bolster its search engine and attracts traffic to which they pitch advertising from my competitors," Parker complained.

"The Parker decision is one of several recent rulings finding that Google's services are consistent with principles of copyright law. Indeed, Judge Surrick relied in part on Judge Jones' decision in Field v. Google," Michael Kwun, litigation counsel for Google, wrote in an e-mail. "We are very pleased with this decision."

 

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