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French court orders Google to block Max Mosley orgy pictures

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In a landmark ruling, a French court on Wednesday ordered Google to prevent its search engine from providing links to images of a sadomasochistic orgy involving former Formula One boss Max Mosley. 

Former FIA chairman Max Mosley speaks to the press in central London on November 29, 2012

Google, which had strongly opposed Mosley's request, immediately announced that it would appeal a decision it fears will set a dangerous legal precedent for costly and heavy-handed automated censorship of the Internet.

"This decision should worry all those who defend freedom of expression on the Internet," said Daphne Keller, Google's legal representative in the case.

The appeal does not suspend the ruling, which Google now has two months to comply with. The court also fined Google a symbolic one euro and ordered the company to pay 5,000 euros ($6,700) in court costs.

Wednesday's ruling relates to nine images taken from a video of the orgy that was filmed by Britain's now defunct News of the World (NoW) tabloid. Mosley's legal team failed to secure a broader ruling which would have also forced Google to block access to any further extracts from the video which may emerge in the future.

Mosley has won a string of legal battles related to the publication of the video, starting with a libel case against the NoW over its claim, in March 2008, that the orgy was Nazi-themed.

In 2011, a French court fined NoW's owner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., 10,000 euros after ruling that Mosley's right to privacy had been infringed by the publication of the images in editions of the newspaper sold in France, which has one of the world's toughest privacy laws.

Those rulings however have failed to stop images from the orgy being widely circulated on the web and Mosley believes search engines have a duty to prevent users from accessing material deemed to have breached the law.

Google had argued that the construction of search result filters of the type requested by Mosley would threaten users' freedom of access to information while failing to remove the offending images from the Internet.

The world's most widely-used search engine says filters are inevitably clumsy mechanisms -- one that blocks content related to the orgy could also block legitimate coverage of the court case, for example, Google argues.

Google said it had, at Mosley's request, already taken steps to ensure hundreds of pages whose content could be deemed to breach the law in some countries are excluded from its search results.

At the heart of the legal debate is the question over whether companies like Google should be obliged to play a role in policing the Internet. The company says no to that and believes its stance is supported by a European Union directive (law) on e-commerce which should take precedence over privacy law.

In a blog at the start of the court case in September, Keller argued: "We don't hold paper makers or the people who build printing presses responsible if their customers use those things to break the law. The true responsibility for unlawful content lies with the people who produce it."

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