Google has been ordered by a French court to remove images of former Formula One racing chief Max Mosley having a sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes in what is been called a “Nazi sex party.” The court found that the images violate French privacy laws, and this ruling can have a huge effect on Google’s operations in Europe.
Mosley, a former president of the International Automobile Federation filed the lawsuit in September, requesting that Google automatically filter images from its search engine that link to the British newspaper that featured the photos, the News of the World.
The images depict an elderly Mosley being tied up, whipped, and humiliated by several women in a dungeon or a prison of some kind. The story first surfaced in April 2008, along with images and video.
News of the World called the photos a “Nazi orgy,” perhaps making reference to the fact that Mosley’s father, Oswald Mosley, was the head of the UK Fascist party and a friend of the Führer himself. Mosley denies that his sex party had a Nazi theme.
Mosley sued the News of the World for breaching privacy and was awarded $96,000 in damages. Since then the Murdoch-owned newspaper was forced to close after being found complicit in a phone hacking scandal. Google will now be fined 1,000 euro every time any of nine images are displayed in its search engine results.
The court ruled that Google must “remove and cease, for a period of five years beginning two months after this decision, the appearance of nine images identified by Max Mosley in the Google Images search engine results.”
Google has already removed hundreds of links to images of Mosley’s sadomasochistic sex rampage.
One quirk of internet culture is that when individuals and organizations demand that undesirable images be removed, just the opposite is liable to occur–the images get disseminated further, and made into memes, parodies, and spoofs. Mosley, a septuagenarian, seems to be operating under the misapprehension that when Google removes the images nobody will be able to see them ever again. The levee has already burst; the images are now being hosted on many independent websites and there are many different ways to find them, not just through Google.
Google will appeal the decision on the grounds that it if the company were forced to block search results to respect the privacy of individuals, it will hamper free expression.
“Even though we already provide a fast and effective way of removing unlawful material from our search index, the French court has instructed us to build what we believe amounts to a censorship machine,” said Google’s associate general counsel, Daphne Keller.
Google is under fire for other privacy lawsuits in Europe as well, and this is opening up the broader debate of whether search engines have any responsibility for the sites that come up in their search results.
At the time of writing, images of Max Mosly’s “Nazi sex party” can still be found on Google Image Search, although in modified or censored forms.
By K. Elsner