A French court has claimed that Google could be infringing copyright law by failing to filter the terms 'torrent', 'Rapidshare' and 'Megaupload' from its Autocomplete and Instant services.
Over two years ago a French music group called SNEP took Google to court in an attempt to force the search giant into censoring certain terms in its Instant and Autocomplete products. The group felt that by suggesting the words torrent, Megaupload and RapidShare after the names of popular musicians and singers, Google was aiding the downloading of copyright material.
Following two failed court hearings in France's lower courts, SNEP has now won a favourable decision in the French Supreme Court, which has sent the case back to the Appeals Court for a final decision.
While the court ruled that Google was not responsible for the copyright infringement directly, it said that Google had a duty to make it more difficult to discover this illegal material. By filtering these search terms, Google helps to prevent future infringements, the Court noted.
The Court ruling is based on a French law which states that collection societies like SNEP are within their rights to demand that the court take "all measures to prevent or stop such an attack on a copyright or related rights."
The group's CEO David El Sayegh said: "This decision showing that search engines should be responsible for regulating the internet is a first in France."
Google has been filtering piracy-related terms such as these for over a year now worldwide, meaning its court battle in France seems to be more like a question of principle than anything else. Censoring these terms in the Autocomplete and Instant products does not mean it has filtered search terms in the same way.
However, if the final ruling by the Appeals Court does impose the proposed sanctions on Google, it could open up the floodgates and allow other groups to dictate what terms it will need to filter out.