Simpsons Solicitors

Google loses freedom of the press battle with online newspaper

May 4th 2011

The online student newspaper HomepageDAILY recently resolved a dispute with internet giant Google, over whether the publication of a photograph by the renowned Australian artist Bill Henson was in breach of its advertising policy on pornographic material.

When HomepageDAILY published an article about changes to NSW pornography laws they accompanied the story with a photograph by Henson, referring to the media controversy following a police raid on an exhibition of his works in May 2008. Google received a private complaint claiming the site contained pornographic material, and quickly disabled the newspaper’s AdSense online advertising account, despite the fact that the images had never been classified as pornography and are easy to find on Google’s own image search engine with the recommended SafeSearch ‘Moderate’ filter enabled.

Google’s action in disabling the account raises questions about its ability to infringe on freedom of the press. Google retains the right to disable an advertising account where the hosting site contains “full nudity”, or for any reason at its discretion, while at the same time providing links to sexually explicit material through its search engine. Google argues that its principle concern is to “protect the interests of its AdWords advertisers”. Given that 97% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising the importance of maintaining good relations with current partners is obvious.

“Of course, Google, like Apple, has become much more than just a tech company,” says Adam Simpson. “The pervasive reach into our lives means it has become a powerful social and commercial arbiter. If Google finds itself between two disputing parties, as here, Google’s non-negotiable and decidedly one-sided contract gives them the power to resolve or heavily influence the outcomes. Parties find themselves appealing to Google to exercise their discretion in their favour. It’s effectively a private judicial system.”

A month after it was disabled HomepageDAILY’s account was reinstated, allowing the newspaper to once again participate in the AdSense program. The newspaper has welcomed Google’s decision, while at the same time raising questions about the lack of consistency in applying its policies.

To read the full story visit HomepageDAILY here.

Simpsons acts for many national and international publishers and assisted HomepageDAILY in resolving this dispute.  For inquiries relating to publishing and copyright law please contact Adam Simpson.