Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Google liable for hosting a blog

Court of Appeal of Paris (14th Chamber, Section A), 12 December 2007, Google Inc. v Benetton, Bencom

The American company Google Inc. hosts blogs on the Internet. The Benetton Group and Bencom manufacture and commercialize ready-to-wear clothes. The Benetton Group is the parent company, and Bencom the owner of the group’s trademarks.

Photographs from their catalogues and certain of their trademarks were reproduced by a certain “Angela B.” on two blogs, who claimed that he/she worked for Benetton in order to get women to send photographs of themselves in swimsuits or underwear. One blog was hosted by Microsoft, the other by Google Inc.

Benetton and Bencom first sent formal notices to Angel B.’s email address, which appeared on the blogs. As these notices had no effect, the plaintiffs wrote to Microsoft and Google to ask them to block all access to the blogs. Only Microsoft accepted.

At the beginning of May 2007, Benetton and Bencom brought the case before the President of the High Court of First Instance of Paris. In a summary order dated 29 May 2007, the President ordered Google Inc. to disable all access to the litigious blog, and condemned it to pay provisional damages to the plaintiffs.

On 8 June 2007, Google Inc. lodged an appeal and the litigious blog became inaccessible on either June 6 or June 8.

In its decision dated 12 December 2007, the Court of Appeal of Paris ruled that Google Inc. acted as a hosting provider and not as a publisher. The Court recalls that under the provisions of the Act of 21 June 2004 on Confidence in the Digital Environment, a hosting provider is not liable for the information stored at the request of a recipient of the service, if the provider did not have actual knowledge of illegal activity or information, or if the provider, upon obtaining such knowledge, acted expeditiously to remove or disable access to the information.

The Court noted that on 3 May 2007, after the summons had been served on Google Inc., the plaintiffs communicated to the defendant the evidence that was intended to be used at the trial. This evidence established the plaintiff’s rights and trademarks and under what conditions the photographs and trademarks had been reproduced.

The Court ruled that Google Inc. had knowledge of the illegal content when it received the plaintiff’s evidence, and that it should have promptly disabled all access to the content, without waiting for the first judge’s ruling. Google Inc. had only removed the blog on June 6 or 8, 2007, and was therefore held liable.