Third Circuit Bounces Lawsuit Over Google Groups–Parker v. Google

By Eric Goldman

Parker v. Google, Inc., No. 06-3074 (3d Cir. July 10, 2007)

Parker v. Google was one of the troika of district court opinions involving Google and copyright from Q1 2006 (along with the Perfect 10 and Field cases). Parker appealed his loss to the Third Circuit. Unfortunately, the Third Circuit didn’t spend a lot of time writing up a thorough opinion (probably because of the pro se plaintiff), so the opinion is unhelpfully conclusory and designated “not precedential.” Despite these defects, the opinion illustrates that at least some appellate courts will give wide deference to search engines.

Parker is a copyright owner. He claims that third parties infringed his copyright by posting his work to USENET, which Google then made accessible via its Google Groups service. He further claims that some people bashed him online and Google committed defamation by indexing and linking to these allegedly defamatory sites. The court efficiently rejects Parker’s claims:

* Google isn’t liable for direct copyright infringement via its Google Groups service because it makes USENET content available without any volitional conduct.

* Google isn’t liable for contributory copyright infringement because Parker didn’t allege the requisite knowledge of third party activity. The court doesn’t reference 512 in this discussion, but it does note that Parker sent some C&D letters that didn’t reference his specific copyrighted work.

* Google isn’t liable for vicarious copyright because Parker didn’t allege that Google gets a direct financial benefit from the infringing USENET posts.

* Google isn’t liable for defamation (and related claims) because of 47 USC 230.

* The court also rejected a trademark claim based on indexing a third party site that Parker claimed searchers would think came from him.