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Summary:

Should public figures have the right to purge search engines of images that depict their embarrassing behavior? A court in Paris has said yes, and ordered Google to delete images of Max Mosley.

In a troubling decision for free speech advocates, a Paris court has instructed Google to scrub images that depict former Formula One chief, Max Mosley, participating in an S&M orgy with five German speaking prostitutes.

The case, reported by the Wall Street Journal, is a bellwether case in Europe for a so-called “right to be forgotten” on the internet and is notable because it holds a third party (Google) accountable for content posted by others.

The court order, which will be in force for five years, gives Google two months to comply, and requires the search giant to pay Mosley a symbolic damage figure of 1 euro as well as 5,000 euros in legal bills.

As we’ve argued before, the case is less a triumph for privacy than it is a victory for the rich and powerful of Europe to purge history. While Mosley, whose father was the head of the U.K. Fascist party, understandably wants to scrub an embarrassing episode, he is a public figure whose activities are the subject of legitimate public scrutiny. In the same way that celebrities have no right to order libraries to burn books, it’s unclear why the likes of Mosley should have the right to melt down search results.

  1. Saved to disk.

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  2. Google should leave any presence in france, and block their search engine, gmail and all google services from french IP’s

    Show the paris court what being ridiculous looks like

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  3. To be clear, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for Mosley but …

    You’re welcome to your opinion but the position that “[he] is a public figure whose activities are the subject of legitimate public scrutiny”, is not so cut and dried. In 2008 the English High Court held that the reporting of Mosley’s sex life was indeed not legitimate (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosley_v_News_Group_Newspapers) and awarded damages to Mosley. The judgement is based on a balance between the rights to privacy and free speech which are both contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (represented in English law by the 1998 Human Rights Act).

    By the way, the court refused Mosley’s associated request to prevent the video of the event being made available on the Internet on the grounds it was impractical.

    As the current investigation of News International demonstrates, it’s only the rich who can afford to prosecute their rights in this way, but that doesn’t make them less legitimate.

    “In the same way that celebrities have no right to order libraries to burn books …” – but, in Europe, they kind of do. The typical response of a publisher to a lost libel case as it applies to a book is to pulp (not burn) the run of books, and perhaps republish with the offending material removed*. I don’t think that has happened in a privacy case thus far but in England the law has only applied since the Human Rights act came in. Several countries in Europe – including France – have pre-existing privacy laws so such an outcome may have already applied there.

    * see, e.g. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10172292/The-murky-world-of-literary-libel.html,
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/music-critics-book-is-pulped-as-penguin-loses-defamation-case-398144.html or just search (Google!) for libel, pulped and books.

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