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Judge: Google Can Deny Ads If It Wants To

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The verdict is in: Google, or any other search engine, does not have to accept all advertisements submitted, officially giving search engines editorial control over the content of ads appearing in their network. The judge cited the First Amendment as the biggest reason.

Cyberlaw expert and professor Eric Goldman was quick to report the verdict in Landgon v. Google today, a lawsuit that named AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN as well. Christopher Langdon filed suit in May of last year after Google rejected political advertisements, citing their standard rule of denying ads that are personal attacks.

Google doesn’t allow ads for liquor, firearms, or gambling, for that matter.

Langdon operates NCJusticeFraud.com and ChinaIsEvil.com. The ads in question attacked North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Langdon also alleged that Google censored his ChinaIsEvil website, but it is pointed out, most interestingly, that the website was censored only on Google China, where Google is allowed to do that.

Simultaneously, Langdon submitted ads to Yahoo! and MSN. He claimed MSN ignored his requests and that Yahoo would only take ads from Yahoo-hosted sites.

In the suit, Langdon demanded "that Google-AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft be required to place my ads for my websites…in prominent places on their search results for searches of my choosing; (d) that Defendants Google-AOL and Yahoo! honestly rank my websites…in their search results, as Microsoft does…"

The judge on the case disagrees – really, really disagrees – calling the suit "frivolous." Langdon’s case was dismissed. The verdict, says Goldman, will also add precedent for rejecting claims like the ones posed in the KinderStart case, where Google was sued over how it ranked websites.

The judge’s ruling outlined that:

Search engines have the right to reject ads, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Goldman says the First Amendment covers Google’s Page Rank as protected opinion as well.

The oft-cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to online services for editorial content decisions.

Advertisers are not guaranteed freedom of speech through advertisements on search engines. Search engines are not state actors, but private entities with the right to reject speech.

The judge denied, however, Google’s request to dismiss Langdon’s breach of contract claim in this ruling. The judgment was an early ruling in an ongoing lawsuit, posed after exploring a number of claims. As the breach of contract claim couldn’t be ruled out with presented arguments against, it will continue on to the next stage. Goldman is "100% confident" that the claim will be dismissed then.

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  • ChrisLangdon

    Jason Lee Miller and WebPro News owe me an apology and a retraction because of Miller’s comments on my case, Langdon v. Google, published on 2/27/07.
    Journalistic integrity and simple human decency require that a reporter contact someone and get their side of the story before printing an article about them.
    I have never asserted that Google censored my website, www.chinaisevil.com, in the U.S., as falsely alleged by Miller. Also, the judge never said that my entire lawsuit was frivolous.
    Miller also ignored my assertion
    that Google has removed my website, www.ncjusticefraud.com, from its 638 search results for “Roy Cooper,” while Yahoo and Microsoft rank it in the
    top 20 in their results. Google’s censorship of www.ncjusticefraud.com is contrary to Google’s numerous assertions that its search results are “objective” and the result of a computer algorithm. Doesn’t that bother anyone?
    Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” has appeared in Google’s search results, and can be downloaded in its entirety, but my N.C. website cannot be seen in Google’s
    results, when searching “Roy Cooper.” Neither, Cooper, Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo have ever alleged that my N.C. website contains any false allegations.
    My N.C. site has been in existence for 16 months. North Carolina Att. Gen. Cooper has never asked for a retraction, nor has he sued me for libel, becuase
    of my accusations on my N.C. website, accusations that he perpetrated fraud
    on the US Supreme Court.
    If Cooper has no objections to my
    site, why should Google? Google just negotiated $260 million in economic incentives to locate new facility in
    N.C. Do you think that has something
    to do with it?
    Google, Yahoo and Microsoft allow ads for Mao’s Little Red Book, although Mao was probbaly the greatest mass murderer in history. Yet, I can’t advertise my anti-Communist website. Doesn’t that bother anyone, i.e. Eric Goldman, or Jason Miller?
    The media love Google and its founders, Brin and Page. They are unwilling to see beneath the false
    image of nobility that Brin and Page
    have created.

    Chris Langdon, qiology@aol.com

    • Jason Lee Miller

      Mr. Langdon, I’ll address your concerns one at a time.

      Regarding “journalistic integrity and simple human decency”:

      As a journalist, especially regarding matters of public record, I am not “required” to contact anyone for any reason. Your side of the story was clearly outlined in the court’s decision to dismiss all but one of your claims, the last of which seems will be dismissed according to proper procedure. If I distrusted the logic expressed in the court ruling, I may have been obliged to contact you. My job, simply, is to report the truth, to the best of my knowledge, which I have done.

      I did not contact Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or Time Warner, either. The reason I did not contact them, is partly because companies frequently do not comment on legal proceedings, and their arguments were clear as published in the court decision.

      Aside from that, you were not really the focal point of the story. The focal point, as relevant to our readers was that Google is not beholden to the First Amendment to publish any advertisement, as Google is not a state actor, and therefore has editorial discretion as to what is promoted on their site. Google can reject any content it deems inappropriate for whatever reason it likes.

      Likewise, WebProNews is fully within its rights to report what is felt to be relevant to the audience. In this case, some background was included to frame the story, but in all reality, any information beyond the court ruling itself was included for clearer comprehension. If anything, you should be happy not all aspects of the ruling were included, as every grounds for dismissal was accompanied by, what should be anyway, embarrassing judicial commentary.

      Human decency is never a simple concept, nor is it one that is readily transparent in one article on a court ruling. As far as my own decency goes, I’d stack it up against just about anyone a notch or two below, say, Mother Theresa, but that’s just my own self-inflated opinion.

      Regarding “asserting that Google censored my website, www.chinaisevil.com, in the US.”

      I never asserted that you asserted Google censored your site in the US, either. Reading is fundamental, Mr. Langdon. The sentence in question is as follows:

      “Langdon also alleged that Google censored his ChinaIsEvil website, but it is pointed out, most interestingly, that the website was censored only on Google China, where Google is allowed to do that.”

       The italics in the sentence were not my own. They were inserted by Judge Farnan in his description of the matter, which is as follows:

      “Plaintiff also alleges that Google censored his website, in China it allows the Chinese government to censor Google’s search results.”

      If there is a problem with the wording of that, see Judge Farnan, not me. 

      Regarding, “the judge never said that my entire lawsuit was frivolous.”

      Point taken, and please allow for clarification.

      Adjectives put forth by the judge were quite specific:

      “Defendants, as internet search engines, do not fall under the umbrella of an innkeeper. The public calling claim is frivolous, and therefore, the Court will grant Defendant’s Motions to Dismiss the public calling claim.”

      He also used the word “specious“:

      “Plaintiff’s position that Google is a state actor because it works with state universities is specious.”

      And “unavailing”:

      “Similarly, the Court finds unavailing Plaintiff’s argument that he has no reasonable alternative to advertising on Defendants’ search engines.”

      There were many, many words I didn’t bring attention to, but now have because of your insistence on thoroughness. Any slight inaccuracy is unintended, and I act in good faith to assure that statements are and remain accurate.

      Regarding ” Miller also ignored my assertion that Google has removed my website, www.ncjusticefraud.com, from its 638 search results for “Roy Cooper”

      Yes, I ignored it because of lack of pertinence to the ruling, which was the focal point of the article. Like I said, I ignored lots of things that didn’t actually reflect well on you. Nor is it my responsibility to rehash everything in the court document, to which I linked for further clarification and background.

      Regarding “Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’

      Argument is irrelevant to current discussion. See Godwin’s Law.

      Regarding Atty. General Roy Cooper, your allegations of fraud, and Google’s relationship with North Carolina politicians.

      Roy Cooper, and all details regarding him, are for the most part irrelevant to the topic, except wherever some small background is deemed necessary by the writer.

      If you have, indeed, some sort of proof that Google is engaging in dirty “good ole boy” politics in North Carolina, please forward that to me and I shall investigate and report post haste.

      Regarding “Mao’s Little Red Book”

      Yes, oppressive Maoism bothers me because I am a lover of liberty, unfettered and adulterated. But that doesn’t really pertain to the issue at hand.

      But we have learned something very valuable here, Mr. Langdon: when suing four multinational, multi-billion dollar corporations, it’s probably a good idea to hire a lawyer.

      In light of the facts and arguments above, your motion for apology and retraction is denied.

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