Worldwide interlocutory injunction against Google upheld.
01, July 01, 2017 - Filed in: Court Cases
"E is a small technology company in British Columbia that launched an action against D. E claimed that D, while acting as a distributor of E’s products, began to re‑label one of the products and pass it off as its own. D also acquired confidential information and trade secrets belonging to E, using them to design and manufacture a competing product. D filed statements of defence disputing E’s claims, but eventually abandoned the proceedings and left the province. Some of D’s statements of defence were subsequently struck.
Despite court orders prohibiting the sale of inventory and the use of E’s intellectual property, D continues to carry on its business from an unknown location, selling its impugned product on its websites to customers all over the world. E approached Google and requested that it de‑index D’s websites. Google refused. E then brought court proceedings, seeking an order requiring Google to do so. Google asked E to obtain a court order prohibiting D from carrying on business on the Internet saying it would comply with such an order by removing specific webpages.
An injunction was issued by the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordering D to cease operating or carrying on business through any website. Between December 2012 and January 2013, Google advised E that it had de‑indexed 345 specific webpages associated with D. It did not, however, de‑index all of D’s websites. De‑indexing webpages but not entire websites proved to be ineffective since D simply moved the objectionable content to new pages within its websites, circumventing the court orders. Moreover, Google had limited the de‑indexing to searches conducted on google.ca. E therefore obtained an interlocutory injunction to enjoin Google from displaying any part of D’s websites on any of its search results worldwide. The Court of Appeal for British Columbia dismissed Google’s appeal."
The S.C.C. (7:2) dismissed the appeal and upheld the worldwide interlocutory injunction against Google.
Justice Abella wrote as follows (at paras. 1, 31, 33, 35, 38, 41, 46, 48-49, 51-53):
"The issue in this appeal is whether Google can be ordered, pending a trial, to globally de-index the websites of a company which, in breach of several court orders, is using those websites to unlawfully sell the intellectual property of another company. The answer turns on classic interlocutory injunction jurisprudence: is there a serious issue to be tried; would irreparable harm result if the injunction were not granted; and does the balance of convenience favour granting or refusing the injunction. Ultimately, the question is whether granting the injunction would be just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case.
Norwich orders are analogous and can also be used to compel non-parties to disclose information or documents in their possession required by a claimant (Norwich Pharmacal Co. v. Customs and Excise Commissioners,  A.C. 133 (H.L.), at p. 175). Norwich orders have increasingly been used in the online context by plaintiffs who allege that they are being anonymously defamed or defrauded and seek orders against Internet service providers to disclose the identity of the perpetrator (York University v. Bell Canada Enterprises (2009), 311 D.L.R. (4th) 755 (Ont. S.C.J.)). Norwich disclosure may be ordered against non-parties who are not themselves guilty of wrongdoing, but who are so involved in the wrongful acts of others that they facilitate the harm. In Norwich, this was characterized as a duty to assist the person wronged (p. 175; Cartier International AG v. British Sky Broadcasting Ltd., , 1 All E.R. 700 (C.A.), at para. 53). Norwich supplies a principled rationale for granting injunctions against non-parties who facilitate wrongdoing (see Cartier, at paras. 51-55; and Warner-Lambert Co. v. Actavis Group PTC EHF, 144 B.M.L.R. 194 (Ch.)).
The same logic underlies Mareva injunctions, which can also be issued against non-parties. Mareva injunctions are used to freeze assets in order to prevent their dissipation pending the conclusion of a trial or action (Mareva Compania Naviera SA v. International Bulkcarriers SA,  2 Lloyd’s Rep. 509 (C.A.); Aetna Financial Services Ltd. v. Feigelman,  1 S.C.R. 2). A Mareva injunction that requires a defendant not to dissipate his or her assets sometimes requires the assistance of a non-party, which in turn can result in an injunction against the non-party if it is just and equitable to do so (Stephen Pitel and Andrew Valentine, “The Evolution of the Extra-territorial Mareva Injunction in Canada: Three Issues” (2006), 2 J. Priv. Int’l L. 339, at p. 370; Vaughan Black and Edward Babin, “Mareva Injunctions in Canada: Territorial Aspects” (1997), 28 Can. Bus. L.J. 430, at pp. 452-53; Berryman, at pp. 128-31). Banks and other financial institutions have, as a result, been bound by Mareva injunctions even when they are not a party to an underlying action.
Much like a Norwich order or a Mareva injunction against a non-party, the interlocutory injunction in this case flows from the necessity of Google’s assistance in order to prevent the facilitation of Datalink’s ability to defy court orders and do irreparable harm to Equustek. Without the injunctive relief, it was clear that Google would continue to facilitate that ongoing harm.
When a court has in personam jurisdiction, and where it is necessary to ensure the injunction’s effectiveness, it can grant an injunction enjoining that person’s conduct anywhere in the world.
...The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally.
If Google has evidence that complying with such an injunction would require it to violate the laws of another jurisdiction, including interfering with freedom of expression, it is always free to apply to the British Columbia courts to vary the interlocutory order accordingly. To date, Google has made no such application.
This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values, it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders. We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods.
And I have trouble seeing how this interferes with what Google refers to as its content neutral character. The injunction does not require Google to monitor content on the Internet, nor is it a finding of any sort of liability against Google for facilitating access to the impugned websites. As for the balance of convenience, the only obligation the interlocutory injunction creates is for Google to de-index the Datalink websites ... Even if it could be said that the injunction engages freedom of expression issues, this is far outweighed by the need to prevent the irreparable harm that would result from Google’s facilitating Datalink’s breach of court orders.
As for the argument that this will turn into a permanent injunction, the length of an interlocutory injunction does not, by itself, convert its character from a temporary to a permanent one. As previously noted, the order requires that the injunction be in place “until the conclusion of the trial of this action or further order of this court”. There is no reason not to take this order at face value. Where an interlocutory injunction has been in place for an inordinate amount of time, it is always open to a party to apply to have it varied or vacated. Google has brought no such application.
Datalink and its representatives have ignored all previous court orders made against them, have left British Columbia, and continue to operate their business from unknown locations outside Canada. Equustek has made efforts to locate Datalink with limited success. Datalink is only able to survive — at the expense of Equustek’s survival — on Google’s search engine which directs potential customers to its websites. In other words, Google is how Datalink has been able to continue harming Equustek in defiance of several court orders.
This does not make Google liable for this harm. It does, however, make Google the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur. On balance, therefore, since the interlocutory injunction is the only effective way to mitigate the harm to Equustek pending the resolution of the underlying litigation, the only way, in fact, to preserve Equustek itself pending the resolution of the underlying litigation, and since any countervailing harm to Google is minimal to non-existent, the interlocutory injunction should be upheld."
Note: The summary and body are drawn from Eugene Meehan’s SupremeAdvocacy Weekly Updates for the Law Community.