Search Engine Legal Developments to Watch in 2010

By Eric Goldman

I recently spoke on a panel about search engines and the law at SMX West. I previewed four major trends in search engine law to watch in 2010:

1) Competition issues. Antitrust/competition law has become a big part of the search engine industry. There are two main flash points: Google’s high percentage of the search advertising business and Google’s black box algorithm for organic search results. Both facets are troubling to competitors and regulators, but they are creating extra friction with “vertical search engines” that portray themselves as competition for Google.

Recent antitrust/competition battles:

* Google-DoubleClick acquisition scrutiny

* Google-Yahoo search syndication deal killed by DOJ

* >a href=””>Microsoft-Yahoo deal

* DOJ and Microsoft opposition to Google Book Search settlement

* Person, KinderStart and Langdon civil lawsuits against Google

Present battles:

a) EU complaints from a UK price comparison site, Foundem, a French legal search engine called, and Microsoft’s Ciao! from Bing. Wired: “Google says the companies accuse it of wielding its dominance as a search engine to squelch competition by preventing people from finding their vertical search engines.”

b) US actions: TradeComet and myTriggers. Do these lawsuits have Microsoft ties? In a blog post “Competition Authorities and Search,” Microsoft came out of the closet and admitted it was harassing Google on antitrust issues.

The underlying battle: who should decide what content and ads that searchers see? Two main options: search engines or regulators. Seems like an easy call to me. See my Search Engine Bias article. An under-addressed issue: the role of 47 USC 230(c)(2) in search engines’ filtering decisions.

2) keyword advertising lawsuits against Google. 8 lawsuits are pending. The Rosetta Stone case scheduled for trial in May. There are no known US legislative initiatives, especially now that the Utah legislature has adjourned for the year. We are all anxiously awaiting the issuance of the ECJ opinion tomorrow at 1:30 am CA time (I’ll blog it as fast as I can).

3) Search engines and copyright. Pending US cases include Viacom v. YouTube, Perfect 10 v. Google and the Google Book Search settlement. Plus, Google’s tussles with AP, News Corp. and other news organizations.

4) Search engine compliance with foreign laws, including the Google-China flap and the Google Videos conviction in Italy. This has stirred the pot in Congress again. The latest: Sen. Durbin’s is threatening to force Web companies to join the Global Network Initiative and stop dealing with repressive regimes…which is a resurrection of Chris Smith’s Global Online Freedom Act. Hypocrisy alert! In light of point #1, will the US itself be put on the list of repressive regimes? Plus, as we’ve seen, Google’s single-handed efforts to take down the Chinese government haven’t worked so well.