The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal of a case in which Google was ordered to block certain search-engine results worldwide – and experts say the case, which originated in British Columbia, will determine whether courts in this country can control what appears on screens in others.
The case, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in Canada, began five years ago as a trademark-infringement dispute between two companies. A B.C. Supreme Court judge granted an injunction in 2014 that ordered Google to stop listing the firm accused of the trademark violations. The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld that ruling last year.
But the high court announced Thursday it would hear Google's appeal, and a Google Canada spokesperson said the company was "pleased" with the decision.
"This case raises important questions about the freedom to access information on the Internet, and whether one country can determine what the rest of the world can see online," a statement from the spokesperson said.
Equustek Solutions Inc., a company that sells industrial networking devices and is based near Vancouver, filed suit against Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc. in 2011, accusing the latter of relabelling its products and passing them off as its own. Equustek also accused Datalink of unlawfully acquiring confidential information and using it to manufacture a competing product, in violation of Equustek's trademarks.
Datalink, which only operates online, stopped responding to the lawsuit within a year of it being filed.
Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, said the Supreme Court of Canada case will have "huge implications for the Internet in Canada."
"Many courts and countries are struggling to identify how far their legal reach should extend," he wrote in an e-mail.
"This becomes particularly relevant in cases like Equustek, where a Canadian court effectively decides what search results people in other countries can access," Mr. Geist said.
Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), said Canadians would be very concerned if a court in another country – particularly one that doesn't value freedom of expression – ordered content removed from the Internet.
"The potential implications of a court saying that a Canadian court can order certain things off the Internet, worldwide, are huge," she said in an interview. "It suggests that Canadian courts would have to respect similar orders made by other countries that may not have the same kind of protections for freedom of expression that we have."
The CCLA was an intervener in the B.C. Court of Appeal case, and Ms. Zwibel said it's likely it will seek leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada, as well.
A request for comment from Equustek was referred to the company's lawyer. The lawyer declined to comment. Datalink could not be reached.
In 2012, Google voluntarily removed some mentions of Datalink on its Canadian portal, google.ca. Equustek, however, said that did not go far enough. It said Datalink would just set up new websites, which could again be found through the search engine. Equustek argued the majority of Datalink's sales were to purchasers outside Canada, so blocking search results in this country alone served little purpose.
Google argued the injunction opened the door to it facing restrictive orders from courts around the world, each with its own domestic law.
The Court of Appeal was not swayed and said that, while Google does not have employees, offices or servers in B.C., it does target Internet users through advertising and sell advertising services to local companies.
That, the ruling said, gave B.C. Supreme Court a level of jurisdiction.