Google search results are protected under the First Amendment, and the company has the complete right to arrange them as it sees fit, according to a recent ruling by a San Francisco court.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by S. Louis Martin, the owner of a website called CoastNews, who argued that the search giant was deliberately lowering the website's ranking in its search results, as it wanted to eliminate CoastNews as a potential competitor. In support, he cited rival search engines like Bing and Yahoo, which he claimed were were turning up the website at the top of their results.
He said that the act is in violation of antitrust law, and was seeking a jury trial as well as around $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Responding to the lawsuit, Google filed an anti-SLAPP motion, a legal tool available when a defendant believes they have been unfairly targeted with a lawsuit that seeks to stifle their right to free speech.
Judge Ernest Goldsmith agreed with Google, and granted the request. “Defendant has met its burden of showing that the claims asserted against it arise from constitutionally protected activity”, he said.
The decision is of great importance for Google, which has been accused by companies like Yelp and TripAdvisor of promoting its own services within its search results. The company, which last month tweaked its search engine algorithms to demote piracy websites, is also facing antitrust scrutiny in Europe.
The ruling comes a few months after a US judge ruled that the Chinese search engine Baidu has the right to block pro-democracy speech from its search results.