London’s High Court has given the go-ahead for a Microsoft Azure consultant to sue Google because having the world's most widely used search engine caching images from his website - and hotlinking them to aggregator sites rather than his own - allegedly infringes his copyright.
Christopher Wheat, who bills himself on Linkedin as a consultant for companies moving their IT infrastructure to Azure, won an appeal against an earlier decision by the High Court to kick his sueball into the long grass. As well as Google, he also wanted to sue Monaco Telecom for allegedly creating a copy of his website at a subtly different address.
The site in question, theirearth.com, appeared this morning to contain adverts and links vaguely related to the solar system. A Wayback Machine snapshot from 2015, however, shows what appears to be an abandoned news website filled with years-old press releases about eco-friendly cars and green technology.
Wheat claimed that Google had cached an aggregator website hosted by Monaco Telecom and, in the process, had breached his copyright. It was said that the aggregator site was a clone of theirearth.com and included pictures for which Wheat said he owned the copyright. As was explained in 2017 (paragraph 15 of the linked judgment), these included the top Google Image Search result for Lewis Hamilton in 2009. Wheat noticed that while the picture was the number one result, he wasn't receiving as much web traffic to theirearth.com as he expected.
"That, in turn, has implications in terms of both the profile of his own website and the revenue that he might gain from such matters as advertising revenue via Google's operated AdSense," noted judge Mr Justice Marcus Smith.
Granting legal permission to go ahead but only against Google, the judge ruled: "It was contended on behalf of Mr Wheat that, because he was operating his business in [England and Wales], the loss of advertising revenue and the financial loss caused by the lower profile of his website than would otherwise have been the case caused damage to him within this jurisdiction. Again, it seems to me that that is something which is arguable with reasonable prospects of success on an appeal."
Noting that Google "is a worldwide corporation with a significant presence within this jurisdiction, albeit not a [legally] servable presence," the judge went on to say: "The question of witnesses, documents and experts in a sense all have an England and Wales focus, largely because of the fact that England and Wales is the law that is applicable. It therefore does seem to me that, so far as this group of claims is concerned, it is at least arguably appropriate that England and Wales is the most convenient forum."
Google did not attend the hearing. The Chocolate Factory is currently waiting to hear whether the Court of Appeal will allow it to be sued in England in another case, but the precedent from that one will help lock this case into the High Court – and potentially open the floodgates to aggrieved Britons and others who can show a legal link to England and Wales. ®