A federal judge ruled Canada's courts can't compel Google to censor particular search results inside the U.S.
The decision marks a significant win for the search giant in its effort to prevent any one country from dictating what can be posted or searched online around the world.
The order, handed down late Thursday by a U.S. district judge in San Jose, Calif., appears to be the first time a U.S. court has weighed in on the thorny and widening issue of who gets to police the internet.
It is a debate that has also flared across the Atlantic. The European Union's top court is weighing whether French regulators can force Google to globally censor search results as part of the bloc's "right to be forgotten" privacy rules.
The legal case in California was sparked by a ruling this summer by Canada's highest court, which ordered Google to strip its search engine of results associated with a distributor of networking devices that was accused in Canada of stealing trade secrets.
Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., was drawn into the business dispute after a British Columbia court ordered the internet company to globally block search results linking to sites associated with Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc., which Canadian courts earlier sought to shut down.
Google objected to scrubbing results in the U.S. and took the issue to the Canada Supreme Court, which affirmed the global order. Stating that "the internet has no borders," Canada's high court said the delisting order would be too porous unless applied extraterritorially.
Google then filed suit in America, asking a federal judge to declare Canada's order unconstitutional and unenforceable in the U.S.
Google said Canada's order violated the First Amendment and would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to wider online censorship. Internet freedom advocates, including the organization that runs Wikipedia, filed briefs supporting Google.
Equustek Solutions Inc., the Canadian company that sought to shut down Datalink, opposed Google before the Canada Supreme Court, arguing the case wasn't about censorship but its right to "deal with illegal conduct on the internet."
Equustek didn't participate in the California litigation and hasn't attempted to enforce the order in the U.S.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila said the Canadian order violated a federal law giving internet content providers strong legal protections against lawsuits over what internet users post on their sites. The judge didn't address Google's First Amendment claim.
"We're pleased with the court's decision to uphold the legal principle that one country shouldn't be able to decide what information people in other countries can access online," Google senior product counsel David Price said Friday. "Undermining this core principle inevitably leads to a world where internet users are subject to the most restrictive content limitations from every country."
A lawyer for Equustek didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Judge Davila's ruling still leaves Canada's order in place and doesn't preclude Canadians from taking measures on their own to enforce it.
Google's court fight could have an influence on foreign internet regulators, said Paul Schiff Berman, a George Washington University law professor who studies internet law and conflicts among legal systems.
Mr. Berman said the decision could influence the debate around internet in other countries. The ruling suggests a country that tries to impose global rules on internet content won't be able to enforce those rules in the U.S.
The decision comes as EU's Court of Justice is set to decide whether to expand the bloc's strict "right to be forgotten" privacy law.
The law allows any EU resident to ask search engines to remove links from searches for their own names, if the information is old, irrelevant or infringes on their privacy.
Google is challenging a 2015 order by France's privacy regulator requiring it to apply the privacy law not just to searches in Europe but around the world.
Write to Jacob Gershman at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 03, 2017 18:30 ET (22:30 GMT)