It’s been well established under US law that the First Amendment of the US Constitution gives search engines almost total discretion over the content on their pages and ranking algorithms. But, a court in Florida previously allowed a case against Google to survive a motion to dismiss (Plaintiff’s links were removed as “pure spam” in violation of Google’s quality guidelines).
The case, e-ventures Worldwide, LLC vs Google, survived Google’s procedural motion. The complaint against Google, among other factual claims, alleged a kind of conspiracy that the company sought to use delisting as a tool to force plaintiff to buy AdWords.
The search engine was sued under various federal and Florida state states, basically for unfair competition. The failure to grant Google’s motion to dismiss was legally in error. But, the Florida court has now granted Google’s motion for summary judgment, effectively ending the litigation in Google’s favor.
Eric Goldman quoted the court’s ruling and rationale, which reaffirmed and relied upon earlier law asserting that the First Amendment protects search engine results as speech:
But there is a more fundamental reason why the First Amendment bars e-ventures’ claims. Google’s actions in formulating rankings for its search engine and in determining whether certain websites are contrary to Google’s guidelines and thereby subject to removal are the same as decisions by a newspaper editor regarding which content to publish, which article belongs on the front page, and which article is unworthy of publication. The First Amendment protects these decisions, whether they are fair or unfair, or motivated by profit or altruism.
It’s a bit odd that the court had decided to wait until after the discover phase was over to come to this position, which is a matter of law, instead of a factual question. But it’s still a recognition of the search-results-as-speech principle first announced back in 2003 in Search King v. Google:
Therefore, the Court finds that under Oklahoma law, protected speech — in this case, PageRanks — cannot give rise to a claim for tortious interference with contractual relations because it cannot be considered wrongful, even if the speech is motivated by hatred or ill will.
Although it’s possible that e-ventures could appeal, their chance of success is almost nothing. According to the law, Google can present its search results in any way it wants.