In a recent case, the High Court ordered the Internet search engine company Google to reveal the identity of an advertiser. This all came about following a claim that the advertiser had breached the intellectual property rights of a third party.
Topic: Advertising on-line
Who: Helen Grant v Google UK Limited
Where: High Court
When: May 2006
In this case, Google, the Internet search engine company, was ordered to disclose the identity of one of its advertisers for the purposes of a claim of copyright infringement against the advertiser. The background facts were as follows:
Helen Grant was the trustee of the Individuals Self-Discovery Trust, which owned the copyright in a work called Unlock Reality. The work, which is due to be published in the UK in September 2006, is claimed "to explain the construction of the Universe in terms anyone can understand".
In early 2006, the Trust discovered via an ad appearing on Google's site that an earlier draft of Unlock Reality was being circulated on the Internet. The ad contained a link to the website realityunlocked.com, where users could freely download a copy of the draft work. The Trust attempted to investigate the ownership of the site but without success, as the domain name had been registered through a company called Domains By Proxy, which specialises in concealing the identity of domain owners. The Trust then contacted Google, requesting details of the advertiser on the assumption that the advertiser was the same person who had been infringing the Trust's copyright. Although Google suspended the ad, it refused to supply the advertiser's details. It did, however, invite the Trust to apply for a Norwich Pharmacal order (basically, an order compelling a third party to give disclosure to assist in the prosecution of a claim).
Accordingly, the Trust made an application for such an order. Google did not oppose the application on the condition that the Trust did not seek an injunction. Mr Justice Rimer made the order, saying: "I am satisfied that this is a case in which Google has become mixed up in the apparent wrongdoing of others and that it is in a position to disclose the identity of those others to the Trust". However, as is common in the case of Norwich Pharmacal orders, the Trust was ordered to pay Google's costs of providing the requested information.
Why this matters:
This case bears similarities with the cases brought against internet service providers for infringements of copyright by music file sharers. It shows that the courts are willing to require third parties to disclose potentially confidential information relating to their customers if that information will assist in the prosecution of a genuine claim. At the same time, it shows how far a copyright owner might have to go (and the costs it might have to meet) just to identify the party who has been infringing its copyright.