Court says search engines have First Amendment right to reject ads

A federal court has ruled that search engines have a First Amendment right to reject ads as part of their protected right to speak or not speak. The U.S. District Court in Delaware (PDF) has effectively shut down a lawsuit filed by Christopher Langdon, who had attempted unsuccessfully to sell ads on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's search Web sites.

Langdon has several Web sites that purport to expose fraud among North Carolina state officials and to discuss atrocities committed by the Chinese government, according to the court filings. Allegedly, Google rejected Langdon's ads because they attacked individuals, MSN ignored the request and Yahoo denied the request saying it only takes ads from sites it hosts. So Langdon sued them on claims of fraud.

"Langdon is a griper. He sought to buy ads on the major search engines to advance his gripes," Eric Goldman, an assistant professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of the High Tech Law Institute, wrote in a blog posting this week. The ruling is "an emphatic and helpful win for the search engines."

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