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Google wins Usenet copyright case

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Google has won a legal action brought over a Usenet posting that the search giant archived and partially displayed in search results. Writer Gordon Roy Parker had claimed that this breached his copyright in the posting, a chapter of an e-book.

Parker, who represented himself in the suit, publishes online under the name “Snodgrass Publishing Group”. One of his publications was an e-book entitled “29 Reasons Not To Be A Nice Guy” and at some time he posted Reason 6 from this book onto a Usenet forum, the worldwide network of discussion groups.

In August 2004 he filed a lawsuit, alleging that when Google robots had automatically scanned and archived the posting in a cache, the search engine had breached his copyright in the material. Google had also directly infringed his copyright by including excerpts of the text in search results, he said.

Judge R Barclay Surrick of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania did not agree.

“It is clear that Google’s automatic archiving of Usenet postings and excerpting of websites in its results to users’ search queries do not include the necessary volitional element to constitute direct copyright infringement,” he wrote.

Nor did he accept that the automatic caching of material amounted to infringement, following a January ruling by the Navada District Court on this very point.

There was no contributory copyright infringement either, said Judge Surrick. Parker had claimed that Google was in breach because it allowed others to view infringed content, but had not provided evidence – particularly in relation to Google’s knowledge of the supposedly infringing activity – to support this claim.

Parker also alleged that Google was guilty of defamation because it archived defamatory comments made about the writer in other Usenet postings and websites.

But Judge Surrick dismissed the claim, advising that Google was immune from prosecution in respect of third party postings by virtue of a provision in the Communications Decency Act. This generally grants immunity from suit to those who provide material on the internet that was written by others.

The Communications Decency Act also protected Google against Parker’s claims in respect of invasion of privacy and negligence, wrote the Judge. He then dismissed other claims in respect of alleged racketeering and civil conspiracy on the grounds that they were “completely incomprehensible”. Parker is planning to appeal, according to reports.

The ruling (pdf)

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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