Judge validates legality of Google's caching practice

Google has won a copyright infringement case that sought to establish some of its key search engine functions as illegal.

A lawsuit that sought to establish as illegal several core functions of Google's search engine has been dismissed, a boost to the company as it defends itself against similar allegations in other cases.

Writer and publisher Gordon Roy Parker sued Google in 2004, leveling 11 claims against the operator of the world's most popular search engine, including various instances of copyright infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy and negligence.

In a 20-page decision handed down last Friday, March 10, Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the lawsuit, saying the plaintiff failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

At issue in this case was the legality of Google's practice of automatically storing a copy of Web pages it indexes, a practice known as caching. It lets Google offer in its search results not only links to live Web pages but also to archived snapshots of those pages kept by Google.

The lawsuit also questioned the legality of Google's practice of automatically archiving postings made to the Usenet online bulletin board system, which the company maintains. The lawsuit also challenged Google's practice of serving up excerpts of Web pages' texts along with links to them in its search results.

Throughout his decision, Judge Surrick confesses finding the complaint confusing, calling it at one time a "rambling pleading" and often indicating that its arguments and allegations were unclear. But the judge left no doubt that Google's caching of Web pages, archiving of Usenet posting and provision of Web page excerpts do not constitute copyright infringement.

Parker isn't the only one taking Google to court over its search engine practices. The Agence France Presse wire service is suing Google for copyright infringement over the inclusion of AFP content in the Google News service, which aggregates links to news stories, often providing excerpts and thumbnail images from them. Perfect 10 Inc., an adult entertainment company, is also suing the company over inclusion of thumbnail images of its photos in Google's image search service. Perfect 10 obtained a victory in February when the court issued a preliminary injunction against Google.

Parker, who publishes his writings online using the name Snodgrass Publishing Group and runs the site www.cybersheet.com, at one time posted a portion of one of his books on Usenet. In his lawsuit, he argued that Google's automatic archiving of his Usenet post constituted direct copyright infringement. Parker, who acted as his own attorney, also argued that Google violates his copyright when it provides excerpts from his Web site in search results and when it caches his Web pages.

Neither Parker nor Google immediately responded to requests seeking comment.

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