Canada's Supreme Court Deals Blow to Google, Win For Music

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The music industry scored a big victory in its fight against piracy after the Supreme Court of Canada ordered Google to remove illegal sites from its search engine’s results worldwide.

Though the years-long legal between Google and Canadian tech company Equustek Solutions didn’t concern music, the judgment bolsters the music business’s case as it pushes for reforms in Europe and the U.S. to the copyright laws that shield sites from liability when users around the world upload content without rights holders’ permission.

"The internet has no borders - its natural habitat is global," the Supreme Court wrote in its judgment Wednesday. "The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates - globally."

In its suit against Equustek, Google had argued, unsuccessfully, that such a judgment would amount to censorship.

“Canada’s highest court has handed down a decision that is very good news for rights holders both in Canada and around the world,” said Frances Moore, CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry -- which promotes the interests of record labels in 58 countries --  in a statement.  “Whilst this was not a music piracy case, search engines play a prominent role in directing users to illegal content online including illegal music sites.

The case between Equustek and Google originally began in 2011 over intellectual property, after Vancouver company Datalink Technologies Gateways stole trade secrets from Equustek and manufactured and sold them online as their own.

A court order requiring Google and Google Canada Corporation to remove Datalink web sites from Canadian search results alone was ineffective due to the internet’s global reach, and when Equustek won in the lower courts to have the mother sites removed from the search engine worldwide, Google appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

While Google maintained the ruling “intended to silence speech regarding the existence of publicly accessible websites on the internet” and had Human Rights Watch (HRW) the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on its side, music industry organizations from around world stood by Equustek.

They including the IFPI; Music Canada, representing the Canadian recording industry; The Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), representing the global independent music industry; International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP), representing music publishers; and International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), representing authors and composers globally.

In its own full-page press release issued this afternoon, Music Canada lauded the Supreme Court’s decision to reject “Google’s approach of only de-listing individual pages within sites, which a lower court described as promoting a ‘Whack-A-Mole’ approach to online infringement. It also rejected Google’s claim that, as a non-party, it was ‘immune’ to court orders. It concluded that Google was ‘the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur’ and suggested it had a ‘duty to assist the person wronged.’”

Music Canada president and CEO Graham Henderson said he was thrilled: “Today’s decision confirms that online service providers cannot turn a blind eye to illegal activity that they facilitate; on the contrary, they have an affirmative duty to take steps to prevent the Internet from becoming a black market,” he said in a statement. “This is welcome news for creators of all stripes who rely on the Internet as their primary market and for whom illegal online activity can instantly wipe out careers and destroy investment in new releases. Today’s decision provides a vital remedy to address illegal online activities and enforce the rights of creators.”

Meanwhile, the Recording Industry Association of America Wednesday announced a piracy-fighting initiative spearheaded by the Trustworthy Accountability Group it belongs to called the “TAG Pirate Mobile App Tool,” which can help members prevent their advertising from appearing on mobile apps that distribute unlicensed music, movies, TV shows, and games.

The tool flags more than 8,000 apps that violate creators’ copyrights.