Judge dismisses suit against Google

An Oklahoma judge quashes a suit filed by ad network company SearchKing that alleged Google manipulated query results.

A federal judge this week granted Google's motion to dismiss a suit that alleged the company manipulated search results in its powerful Web index.

U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange on Tuesday denied a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by SearchKing, an Oklahoma City-based Web hosting and advertising network that claimed Google unfairly removed links to its site and those of its partners from the index, causing financial losses. The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that Google's formula for calculating the popularity of a Web page, or "PageRank," constitutes opinions protected by the First Amendment.

"PageRanks are opinions--opinions of the significance of particular Web sites as they correspond to a search query," according to the decision filed in the U.S. Western District Court of Oklahoma.

"The court simply finds there is no conceivable way to prove that the relative significance assigned to a given Web site is false," the decision said. "Accordingly, the court concludes Google's PageRanks are entitled to full constitutional protection."

SearchKing, which operates an advertising network, originally filed a grievance in October 2002. Its complaint centered on Google's PageRank algorithm and charged that Google devalued SearchKing's PageRank score, bumping it and its ad network out of listings. The Web-hosting company operated an ad network that sold text links on popular Web sites to get them a better listing in Google results.

SearchKing sought a preliminary injunction against Google, asking to be restored to its previous PageRank and to be awarded $75,000 in damages. Late last year, SearchKing's top listing was restored on Google.

The judge denied SearchKing's request for damages, saying it "failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted."

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google countered in January with a motion to dismiss the case based on constitutional protections.

A Google representative declined to comment on the ruling.

SearchKing CEO Bob Massa expressed disappointment over the ruling, but he didn't see it as a complete loss.

"We have been able to give the Internet marketing community a much clearer view of the inner workings of Google, their systems, their reach and their own view of themselves," he said in a statement. "SearchKing never broke a law, yet was accused, judged and executed without so much as a notice of intent. This affected thousands of innocent people without just cause."

Massa said he is reviewing his legal options.

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