Why do some people think Google is their very own reputation management tool?
After Google rejected a May 2012 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request over a photo of himself sticking his tongue out, a minority owner of the Miami Heat has sued the search engine and the blogger responsible for posting the image. In fact, it’s the second time he’s filed suit against the blogger; he lost his defamation case last year.
Raanan Katz claims Google and the blogger, identified as Irina Chevaldina, are guilty of direct and contributory copyright infringement, based on their alleged unauthorized use of Katz’s copyrighted image.
Now, here’s where it gets ridiculous. You would think an image of a former Israeli basketball star and Miami Heat owner standing courtside would fall under fair use. However, Katz and his legal team claim that because the photo was taken in Israel, it is protected under 17 U.S.C. § 104(b)(2) through International Treaties.
In the lawsuit, they state, “Registration of the Image with the copyright office is not a prerequisite to filing a claim for copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. § 411(a) because the Image is not a United States work.”
Who is Ranaan Katz and Why is He Suing Google?
Katz, in addition to his minority ownership role with the Miami Heat, owns a company called RK Centers, formerly known as RK Associates.
The blogger he is suing seems dedicated to exposing the alleged misdeeds of Katz and his company at rkassociatesusa.blogspot.ca. (Sidenote: how did a blogger whose legal address is in Florida secure a .ca (Canadian) Blogger domain?)
A disclaimer at the top of the Blogger blog explains the purpose of the blog and its contents:
“This blog presents publicly available information about RK Centers (former RK Associates),including court records, media publications and opinions. Raanan Katz is the owner of RK Associates (Centers). Raanan Katz is a minor owner of Miami Heat. This blog is not associated in any way with RK Centers and RK Associates official websites and blogs.”
Katz sued this blogger for defamation last year and lost. That outcome is unsurprising, given the right to free speech on North America. The blogger does seem to write unflattering things about RK Associates/RK Centers. However, they cite their sources and link to external documents where possible.
This, my friends, is called “reporting,” sometimes known as “investigative journalism.” It’s a rarity these days, but it still exists. Investigative journalism, thanks to recent technological advances, may take the form of an individual - the blogger - publishing content on their own channel - the blog - and yet still finding protection under freedom of speech and fair use laws. These protections apply even when the publisher is not a multimillion dollar news agencies.
Katz has included Google in the lawsuit this time because he filed a DMCA request over the picture of him sticking his tongue out and they refused to bow to his demand for censorship. Because he is a public figure, the chance of his winning a U.S. court case over a picture he doesn’t like is worse than zero - ever read TMZ? So Katz is seeking damages under international law. Good luck with that!
Why This Case Needs to Be Shut Down... and Fast
In the 2011 defamation suit, Katz’s lawyer Todd Levine issued a stern warning to those who would consider covering the news about the case.
“I'd ask you not to publish anything about this," he said, as reported by the Miami NewTimes. "Even pointing people toward that blog could constitute further defamation."
Wow! An unofficial publication ban to prevent people from even discussing or linking to a public figure suing a blogger for publishing properly sourced information about them. What are these people thinking, that they own the Internet?
Oddly enough, the RKAssociatesUSA blog actually has two published photos of Katz sticking his tongue out. The one above and this one:
Only the second photo is named in the lawsuit. Now, this is a crazy idea, but perhaps Mr. Katz could just stop sticking his tongue out while appearing publicly on basketball courts in front of numerous people with cameras and camera phones? It would seem a lot easier than suing people over the resultant pictures.
Now that defamation didn’t work, maybe a copyright infringement case will shut down the blog that publishes unflattering information about Katz and his company? Let’s hope not.
This wasn’t a photo Katz commissioned of himself. He doesn’t own the rights to it; it’s not filed with the U.S. copyright image. He seems to have appeared in public and made this gesture on at least two occasions. He was caught in an unflattering moment and an opportunistic blogger took advantage of that and used it in a post about Katz. It happens.
If Katz can’t get the website taken down because there’s no basis for it, let’s hope legal trickery over an image doesn’t work. It’s not Google’s job to remove content from their search index because people don’t like it. Even if the subject of said content is them. Prime example:
Why Suing Google to Remove Results After They’ve Refused is Foolish
Forbes’ Tim Worstall explained why it’s counterproductive to sue Google after they’ve refused a DMCA request, particularly when the person filing the request is trying to suppress unflattering information about themselves. He did this using the now infamous case of Max Mosley, former Formula One owner whose name is now synonymous with Nazi hooker orgies:
Any court case arguing that Google must not add to the search engine stories which mention the untrue allegations will be reportable: for court cases and evidence are reportable under privilege. So every time Mosley sues he’s generating more newspaper pieces which Google can, entirely legitimately, add to the index. For they’ve been reported under privilege.
Trying to have content removed from Google’s index by way of a lawsuit generates news coverage of said lawsuit and perpetuates the information the person is trying to suppress. Pretty much like this article right here.
Reputation management is a necessary business practice in the age of digital information. No one gets a free pass from the responsibility to conduct themselves and their business appropriately and in a way in which they want reflected in published material.
When people malign others, the law protects them. This is not that.
This is yet another person asking for a court to enforce the Google Memory Hole – if it’s not indexed and searchable, it didn’t happen. Let’s hope it never actually works that way.