Google Wins Publisher’s Lawsuit over AdSense Termination–Bradley v. Google

By Eric Goldman

Bradley v. Google, Inc., 2006 WL 3798134 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 22, 2006)

I’m struggling with developing a policy regarding blogging about pro se lawsuits (i.e., lawsuits brought without a lawyer) against major companies like Google. On the one hand, often they are obviously futile money-grabs, so blogging about them gives them more legitimacy than they deserve; or in other cases, the lawsuits are just trolling for publicity, and blogging on them contributes to the desired but undeserved payoff. On the other hand, these cases often facilitate the development of legal precedence. For example, major companies can use pro se lawsuits to achieve early landslide wins that can be cited when meatier cases arise.

All this is a long way of saying that I wonder if this lawsuit is truly blog-worthy; if you have strong views, please email me and let me know. (Sorry, comments are still down after the comment spam attack).

In this case, Theresa Bradley was a website publisher who signed up for AdSense. She also has a JD (don’t get me started on the unique problems posed by lawyers as plaintiffs) and is a habitual plaintiff, with 35+ lawsuits under her belt. Ever curious, she clicked on the AdSense-served ads displayed on her website to see who was advertising there. She investigated the ads often enough that Google kicked her out of the AdSense program. Although the opinion doesn’t use the term “click fraud,” that’s what many people would call this behavior. The opinion implies that her AdSense account had $5 in it at the time of termination.

She fought back in court, bringing the equivalent of a wrongful termination lawsuit. She also claims that Google wiped out incriminating evidence from her Gmail account. The court rejected almost all of her claims with limited ability to amend; but her claim that Google destroyed her personal property by deleting emails survives even if she doesn’t amend. It could be a significant development if email deletion qualifies as the destruction of personal property, but based on the early stage in this case, the court hasn’t reached that conclusion yet (although it may be consistent with Ninth Circuit precedent).

Despite the fact that Bradley’s suit wasn’t thrown out entirely, the lesson is clear–AdSense publishers will not have legal recourse if they get kicked out of AdSense. Then again, every AdSense publisher knows not to click on their own ads…

UPDATE: Rebecca takes issue with the court’s reasoning.