Former FIA president Max Mosley has won a landmark court case against Google, with a Paris court ordering the web giant to block its search engine from providing links to images of the Englishman engaging in a sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes.
The ruling will serve as a unique guideline for free access to information, and Google – not surprisingly – immediately announced it would appeal the ruling, fearing that it sets a dangerous legal precedent for costly and heavy-handed automated censorship of the internet.
Irrespective of the timing of the appeal, Google has two months with which to comply with the ruling. The court also issued a symbolic fine of €1 to Google and ordered it to pay a further €5,000 (AU$7,000) in Mr Mosley’s court costs.
This week’s ruling relates to nine still images taken of a video secretly filmed by one of the prostitutes, who was being paid off by the now-defunct News of the World trash tabloid. In March 2008, the newspaper broke the story or the orgy, alleging that Mosley’s activities were ‘Nazi-themed’ – Mosley is the son of the former fascist politician Oswald Mosley.
While Mosley didn’t deny the sadomasochistic element of the orgy, he objected to the ‘Nazi-themed’ allegations and successfully sued News of the World for breach of privacy that July.
The controversy ultimately led to his protracted resignation from his post as FIA President later that year, after surviving a vote in an earlier extraordinary general meeting of its members.
Since leaving the FIA, Mosley has been an active campaigner in the tightening of privacy legislation. In early 2011, he unsuccessfully took News of the World to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that newspapers should be bound to warn people before running exposés on their private lives. He did, however, win a separate case against News of the World in the French courts, arguing that his privacy had been infringed by the publication of the photos and video.
Later that year, he confirmed that he was personally bankrolling the legal expenses of claimants suing the News of the World in the phone-hacking scandal, as well as being one of many celebrities who fronted the Leveson Inquiry.
All of these rulings have, however, failed to stop the circulation of these images on the internet, and Mosley managed to successfully argue that search engines are duty-bound to prevent users from accessing material deemed to have breached the law.
In turn, Google’s defence was that modifying its search engines would only serve to threaten users’ freedom of access to information, and that it would not be able to remove the images hosted on other websites.
It pointed out that it had already taken steps to ensure that many pages hosting the images were excluded from search results in countries where the images were deemed illegal.
The heart of the entire case is whether Google has a responsibility to effectively service as a police for the internet, or whether the true responsibility for this should lie with those who publish and access such information in the first place.
With the London High Court hearing into the alleged bribes handed out by Bernie Ecclestone, and the Quebec safety authority ruling circuit officials are to blame for the death of a trackside marshal during the Canadian Grand Prix already dominating the headlines, this is hardly a shining moment for Formula 1’s image…