Does operating “in the cloud” put Google outside of Canadian laws?
A case heard last month at the Supreme Court of Canada between two B.C. companies dealt with the issue of whether Google can be considered independent of Canadian law because it operates in the ‘cloud’.
Google argued that if it is required to comply with a Canadian court order the internet would become restricted and precedents will be set that could lead to authoritarian states requiring the de-indexing of websites they don’t like. This order would imperil free speech and freedom of expression on the Internet, Google said.
The discussion came due to a case between two British Columbia companies Equustek and Datalink. The company Datalink tried to pass off its copied products as those of Equustek, misdirecting customers and even using labels to portray its products as those of Equustek leading to a legal case dealing with appropriation of trade secrets and false advertising by the company.
Datalink disregarded court orders and continued its fraudulent business online even after it was proved to be infringing the other company’s rights. This is where Google was involved in the case. Equustek, as part of its legal suit, requested that Datalink’s websites should be de-listed by Google to prevent further fraud.
While Google initially agreed to the order and delisted the company’s google.ca listings, the fraudulent business continued to operate from other listings in defiance of the court order. Further, Equustek petitioned and won an interim injunction requiring Google to de-index any Datalink websites globally.Google appealed to this injunction claiming if it is required to comply with a Canadian court order wherever it does business, the Internet will become ‘unworkable’.
However, the decision on the matter would prove to be a tough one as it remains unclear whether Google’s claim can be taken into effect and whether Google is above the law. Since both companies involved in the matter are under Canadian jurisdiction, it is difficult to ascertain what to expect. Moreover Google is now asserting that it is not subject to any national law. Google’s assertions are also undermined by the fact that it regularly complies with de-listing orders as required by law. The company also has a Transparency Report which states it removes websites, that violate policies and at the requests of governments, from its search listings.
This case has now transformed from being a copyright infringement suit to something much bigger with global implications. With one side portraying a threat to freedom of expression and another side citing government laws it remains to be seen what is eventually given precedence.