A Pennsylvania plaintiff recently obtained a permanent injunction in a libel suit that may be well intentioned, but difficult to enforce. The plaintiff is Richard Gorman. Gorman purchased the “brand.com” domain name and received a fair amount of publicity. Not all of it was good.
He became the subject of several false Internet postings accusing him of sexual misconduct. He was also subject to an extortion attempt.
Apparently, one of the perpetrators of the attack was Karly Steinborn. Gorman sued Steinborn in a Pennsylvania federal court, and obtained a default judgment against Steinborn. The court awarded Gorman damages totaling $3,047,608. It also issued an injunction requiring Steinborn to “cease and desist” defaming Gorman. [editor’s note – is it possible to “cease” without “desisting”? I think not, but I digress]
Given Steinborn’s failure to appear, it’s not too surprising the court lowered the boom. But the other part of the court’s order is more interesting. It says:
Plaintiff may submit this Order to internet search engines, including but not limited to Google, to have this link [the referenced link contained the offending statement] removed from internet search results because of Defendant’s defamatory comments that can be seen at the link above, which defame Plaintiff both personally, and professionally.
Here’s the thing. None of those search engines were parties to the case. So if Gorman submits the order to any particular search engine, only to have that search engine say no, it’s not clear to me that there’s much he could do about it. And I don’t see how the search engine would be in contempt of court if it refused to remove the link. This does not even get into the First Amendment issues the order raises. Seems like the court’s heart is in the right place, but it legal reasoning may leave a bit to be desired.