Former F1 president Max Mosley has won a ruling in a French court that Google must prevent its search engine from providing links to nine images showing his involvement in a sadomasochist orgy.
The finding comes in the face of strong opposition from Google, with the company arguing that a ruling in favour of Mr Mosley would set a dangerous legal precedent for censorship of the Internet. It has launched an appeal.
The landmark ruling relates to nine widely-circulated images taken from a video of the orgy that was originally secretly filmed by the News of the World in 2008, three years before Rupert Murdoch closed the Sunday tabloid over the phone hacking scandal.
Mr Mosley, 73, was awarded the token sum of 1 Euro by the Paris court yesterday but Google described the ruling ordering it to remove the images as “troubling”. Daphne Keller, associate general counsel at Google, said in a statement: “This decision should worry those who champion the cause of freedom of expression on the Internet.”
Mr Mosley, who is seeking to force Google to use automatic filters that eliminate any thumbnail images of the sex video, as well as links to it in Google’s search results, has also filed a suit against the Silicon Valley-based company in Germany.
Google said it had, at Mr Mosley’s request, already taken steps to ensure hundreds of pages whose content could be deemed to breach the law in some countries are excluded from its search results.
In a blog at the start of the case Ms Keller had argued that Google was merely the platform provider for content producers. “We don’t hold paper makers or the people who build printing presses responsible if their customers use those things to break the law. The true responsibility for unlawful content lies with the people who produce it.”
But Mr Mosley argued that it should remove them automatically as it does with child pornography. “The case is not about censuring the content of the Internet, it’s about complying with the court decision that already ruled it was a breach of intimacy,” said Clara Zerbib, Mr Mosley’s lawyer.
The former Formula 1 chief has been fighting the case through the courts since he was first exposed participating in a Nazi-themed party following a sting by the now defunct newspaper. His first victory was an award of £60,000 against Mr Murdoch’s UK news publishing division for breach of privacy. Outside the High Court in London, Mr Mosley said at the time: “I am delighted with that judgment, which is devastating for the News of the World. It demonstrates that their Nazi lie was completely invented and had no justification.”
Since then Mr Mosley, son of the 1930s British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, has continued to pursue the matter.