Search King, Inc. filed a motion against Google Technology, Inc. in order to receive the injunctive relief and impose punishment for interfering with the contractual relations. The Search King, Inc. alleged that Google Technology, Inc. in September or August 2012 negatively affected Search King’s “Page Rank,” the PR Advertisement Network that represents a different branch of the company, as well as other Google-affiliated websites that remained unidentified. An assertion of devaluation had been made due to the fact that the PR Ad Network made a profit from selling space to various entities that possessed a high rank in Google’s system. Such a devaluation caused Search King, Inc. to experience significant harm in terms of business relations. Therefore, Search King required Google to restore the ranking to the previous levels for the period of August and September 2012.
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Search King (founded in 1997) is a web hosting company as well as the search engine on the Internet. The PR Ad Network was introduced as a new business branch to place adverts as well as links to the website pages of their clients, which received a high ranking in the Page Rank system owned by Google. The fee for the advertisement is generally based on the ranking a specific website received in the Page Rank system (“Case No. CIV-02-1457-M” 2). Google (founded in 1998) is an Internet search engine that looks for specific web pages that coincide with the search query entered by a user. Simultaneously, the Google search engine produces a ranking for each web page that has any relevance to the search (“Case No. CIV-02-1457-M” 3).
Page Rank system uses a mathematical algorithm placed in the center of the Internet search engine. The ranking is created through a combination of different factors, such as the number of corresponding links and the text matches with the initial query. Thus, the less closely the website matches the user’s query, the less relevant the website is, and the other way around.
Despite the fact that the Page Ranks cannot be paid for, they hold substantial value. For instance, websites that received a high ranking can charge way more than those that received a low ranking. In such cases, a high ranked website can retrieve a benefit from the Page Ranks system without the ‘favor for favor’ deals. PR Ad Network managed to capitalize such a significant benefit and act as the ‘middle ground’ between clients and advertisement through charging websites for placing their ads on the highly ranked websites that are compensated for their favor (“Case No. CIV-02-1457-M” 3).
On purpose, Google decreased the existing Page Rank assigned to PR Ad Network and Search King. While Search King’s rank dropped to 8, PR Ad Network’s ranking was completely deleted. According to Search King, such an action caused large damage to the business because its exposure to the search engine was severely limited. Google Technologies, Inc. claimed that the selling of ad space on the highly ranked website did not comply with Google’s Page Rank system’s integrity due to the fact that the ranks of the posted ads on the highly ranked websites boosted the actual ranking of the websites that advertised themselves (“Case No. CIV-02-1457-M” 3).
While Google Technologies, Inc. admitted to intentionally affecting the Page Rank of Search King, the defendant explained that there had been some specific reasons for doing so:
- The actions implemented by Search King and PR Ad Network undermined the system of Page Ranking integrity.
- There is no obligation for Google to restore the rank of Search King to previous levels or including the website in its search engine.
- Since Page Ranks is representative of the speech protected by the First Amendment, Search King had failed to provide a claim that can be adequately addressed in court (“Case No. CIV-02-1457-M” 4).
The motion of complaint dismissal could have only ha been granted in the case that no set of facts was proven to be consistent with the allegations filed by Search King. Therefore, the court reviewed the sufficiency of the filed complaint by Search King in a sense that whether there had been any evidence that could support the claim.
The procedure was targeted at determining whether the intentional decrease of Search King’s ranking was malicious and therefore had not been justified. The defendant asserted that the actions were neither malicious nor wrongful since the ranking was made up of the constitutionally protected opinions (LeRoy Miller 96). Search King, on the contrary, contended that the opinions included in the Page Ranks could only be verified objectively. It was noted that Lawrence Page, who invented the Page Rank system, owned a patent on it. Therefore, since a system was patented, it is objective in its nature and can be proven either false or true. In addition, Search King noted that the Page Rank system was called “honest and objective,” which represents a certain contradiction.
Despite this, the Court concluded that the Page Ranks system related to the public opinions expressed via the Internet. Additionally, the Court found that Page Ranks do not imply any connotations that could be provably false. Thus, Page Ranks are public opinions on how relevant and various significant websites are. The Court simply found that there could be no possible way of proving that a particular website is significant or not.
Upon determining that the Page Ranks system was made up of constitutionally protected opinions, the second point for determination was Google Technology, Inc. was not subjected to tort liability, which arose from the intentional decrease of Search King in the Page Ranks system. Due to the fact that the protected speech cannot relate to the wrongful intervention, Search King’s claim that the defendant should be subjected to tort liability could not be substantiated.
Two issues were raised in the course of the proceeding:
- Is the Page Ranks system dependent on the public opinions that are protected by the Constitution (First Amendment)?
- If the system is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Volokh 4), is the actual publication is lawful under the law of Oklahoma, thus preventing the liability of the tort-based on the intentional decrease of the Page Ranks by Google?
The Court’s holding was based on the Jefferson County’s Supreme Court holding, which implied that the public concern matters that do not coincide with the connotations that cannot be proved false are protected by the constitution. In addition, similar to Gaylord, 958 P.2d at 149-50, the Court held that the speech protected by the constitution is, in fact, lawful and cannot imply the motion for torturous interference when it comes to business relations. Thus, the Page Ranks system consists of the protected speech aspects that cannot be viewed as wrongful even in cases if such speech has been caused by hatred, malice, or ill will (Yale University 4). In accordance with the Court’s holding, Search King did not provide any substantial evidence that would support the initial claim.
Due to the fact that Search King only asserted one cause of action – “torturous interference with contractual relations” (Yale University 2), the Court required it to show evidence in three aspects of the case:
- There had been an interference with the business relationship of Search King.
- The stated interference had been conducted wrongfully and with malicious intentions and therefore was not excusable or justified as to correct.
- There had been the actual injury that resulted from the interference.
The importance of the case is related to the exploration of the nature of intentional and malicious actions that could negatively affect the business relations of a company. However, the ranking system examined in the case did imply opinions expressed by third parties that had no relations with either the plaintiff or the defendant. Therefore, even if the intentional actions targeted at decreasing a company’s ranking were implemented, the fact that the ranking depends on public opinions eliminates the possibility of the plaintiff’s motion being fulfilled.
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The First Amendment implies that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (Cornell University Law School par. 1). Thus, because the ranking system operated on the expression of freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment, Search King’s motion regarding the maliciousness of Google’s actions could not be fulfilled in court. The importance of the case, therefore, is expressed in differentiating freely expressed opinions from intentional maliciousness.
There was no reported concurring opinion expressed by the majority of the court.
There was no reported dissenting opinion expressed by the majority of the court.
Due to the fact that Search King did not manage to show that the company would possibly suffer from irreparable damage without the injunctive relief, the Court made a decision that the motion should be denied. It was decided that Google’s Page Ranking is a privileged speech, and, therefore, the utterance of such privileged speech could not possibly cause the tortuous interference, as claimed by Search King (Yale University 3).
It is important to note that the Court concluded that the statement provided by Google Technologies, Inc. was not “provably false” (Samson par. 10) despite Google’s concession that the Page Rank was influenced by a common intention taken from the ranking which would be assigned if the normal algorithms had been followed. In this sense, Search King’s rating would also decrease if Google did not affect it intentionally.
A conclusion had been made that Search King did not show that “on balance, the four factors [to be considered when addressing a motion for preliminary injunction] weight heavily and compellingly in [its] favor” (“Case No. CIV-02-1457-M” 12). According to the claim, the Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed by Search King has been denied and so ordered on the 13th of January, 2003.
Case No. CIV-02-1457-M. 2003. PDF file. Web.
Cornell University Law School. First Amendment. n.d. Web.
LeRoy Miller, Roger. The Legal Environment Today – Summarized Case Edition. 8th ed. 2016. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning. Print.
Samson, Martin. Search King, Inc. v Google. n.d. Web.
Volokh, Eugene. Google: First Amendment Protection for Search Engine Search Results. 2012. PDF file. Web.
Yale University. Search King, Inc. v Google Technology, Inc. 2003. PDF file. Web.