Search Engine Results Protected by First Amendment

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first amendment protection search resultsAlthough Google has been the subject of multiple antitrust investigations related to how they arrange search results and rank Web sites, a new 27-page report suggests that Google should be offered the same First Amendment rights as a newspaper. The report, which was commissioned by Google, makes a strong case that search engines are protected by the First Amendment and that the government cannot attempt to control the search results in any way.

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, First Amendment expert, and the author of the “First Amendment Protection for Search Engine Results” report said the following:

“Google, Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo! Search and other search engine companies are rightly seen as media enterprises, much as the New York Times Company or CNN are media enterprises.”

Since Google and the other search engines are media enterprises, the report argues that they have a constitutional right to exclude or include certain Web sites and information from their results. In the report, Volokh also indicated that the search results are a direct product of an algorithmic “opinion” based on what is best for the end-user.  The report claimed that the same laws that protect news aggregators, such as the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post, will protect Google from antitrust legal action.

When Paid Content asked Google why they commissioned the report, the search engine stated, “we thought these issues were worth exploring in more depth by a noted First Amendment scholar.” However, with multiple antitrust investigations by the U.S. government, the European Union, and other foreign governments, Google is probably planning to use this report to bolster its legal positions.

When an Oklahoma ad agency sued Google in 2003 for decreased rankings, the federal judge ruled that the search engine’s actions were protected by free speech. In 2007, a California court ruled that Google’s rankings were private property and that they had the right to choose the businesses they feature in the search results.

While this report and the legal precedent related to free speech may further Google’s case in the U.S. court system, the prominent search engine is unlikely to find success with the First Amendment argument in Europe, South Korea, and other foreign countries.

Do you think that search engine results should be protected by the First Amendment or could this result in monopolistic control of information?

Sources Include: Paid Content, CNet, & slideshare
Image Credit: Shutterstock

David Angotti

David Angotti

After successfully founding and exiting an educational startup in 2009, I began helping companies with business development, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), conversion rate optimization (CRO), online marketing, mergers and acquisition, product development, and branding. Now, I am focused on a new startup in the travel and tourism market niche.
David Angotti
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  • Adam Thompson

    Well, if the SERPs aren’t free speech and Google doesn’t get to set it’s own rules for who ranks…who gets to tell Google what ranks and what doesn’t? If Google can’t set the rules, who can? Talk about opening a big, scary mess of problems.

  • Scott McKirahan

    As much as we all may have our emotional opinions, if Google cannot decide what they can and cannot have on their own website, then none of us can. How would you like to be sued by a manufacturer because you refused to list their shoddy products on your website?

  • Greg

    Hmm I guess that has been the name of the game for a while. I have grown to respect google for what they put out there and the effort they put into cleaning out spam but I loath them for the hoops I have to go through. I guess with this on the table the penguin will march on

  • Ummmmm

    The title is misleading. I think it should read “Search Engine Results Protected by Free Speech, Says ONE Law Professor Paid by Google.” That’s what’s great about law in America, it’s up for interpretation.

    If Google wants to cower behind “free speech” they must also be liable for the mass amounts of libel in their SERPs. I’m starting to get annoyed with all of the SEO blogs/sites and have this mentality that “Google knows best”… Google DGAF about anything but making more $. It seems to me Aaron Wall is the only one shaking his fist at them and calling them out on their blatant BS.