Google Not Liable for False Directory Info

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

Dec. 7 — Google Maps and other online directories are immune from claims that they were falsely advertising unlicensed locksmithing services, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Dec. 4 in a decision designated as nonprecedential.

The court affirmed a lower court's ruling that the Communications Decency Act protected online directory search services, such as Google Maps, YellowBook, SuperPages and ZipLocal, from claims that the directory information was false or misleading.

Locksmith Objects to Listing Unlicensed Competitors.

Baldino's Lock & Key Service Inc. of Lorton, Va., is a locksmithing service founded in 1961. Google Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., operates the popular Google search engine.

Baldino's, which holds licenses from Virginia and Maryland, argued that its business plummeted with the rise of the Internet because, it said, online indexes were publishing information about hundreds of unlicensed locksmith services and offering false information about where the services were located.

In May 2014, Baldino's sued Google and other online indexes and directories—Dallas-based SuperMedia Sales Inc.'s SuperPages.com, Reading, England-based Hibu Inc.'s YellowBook Inc. and Provo, Utah-based ZipLocal LP—alleging that their search engines produced results that included unlicensed locksmithing services and falsely identified how close competing locksmiths were to Internet searchers.

Baldino's alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970, 18 U.S.C. §1965 et seq., and false advertising under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. §1125(a)(1)(B), among other claims.

It said the directory services should be looking up state government lists of licensed locksmiths and deleting directory information of unlicensed providers on a monthly basis.

Additionally, Baldino's said that the directories should be confirming that listed addresses are genuine through telephone calls or location visits. It suggested that Google and the other directories “could easily charge a fee to cover verification costs for a listing to be properly published.”

Interactive Computer Services Protected by CDA.

Judge Claude M. Hilton of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Google, Hibu and ZipLocal's motion to dismiss the racketeering and false advertising claims under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which the law offers a remedy.

The district court said that the online directory services were immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1), which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

In a per curiam ruling, the appeals court affirmed the lower court's ruling that any false or misleading information was the responsibility of the locksmiths who had posted that information to the Internet, and that the online directories were immune from liability.

The appellate panel comprised Judges Paul V. Niemeyer, Diana Gribbon Motz and Albert Diaz.

Baldino's was represented by Donald C. Holmes & Associates P.A., Greensboro, Md. Google was represented by Carr Maloney P.C., Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at amazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek in Washington at mwilczek@bna.com

Text is available at: http://src.bna.com/bpJ.