A German court has ordered Google to block its search results in Germany linking to photos of former Formula One chief Max Mosley at a sex party.
The Hamburg court did not allege that Google took the images, but instead identified the Internet company as a distributor of them and ordered the photos blocked for privacy reasons.
”The court is of the opinion that the banned pictures of the plaintiff severely violate his private sphere, as they show him in active sexual practices,” the court said Friday in its ruling, according to news reports.
The ruling comes just a few months after a separate court in France ordered Google to block pictures of Mosley that were initially published in 2008 in the defunct British tabloid News of the World. The photos were published under the headline, “F1 Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy With 5 Hookers.” The newspaper had paid one of the women to record the event with a hidden video camera. The footage was later found to show that while the participants were wearing German military uniforms, there was no evidence of a Nazi theme.
The latest German case involves some of those same photographs, reports said on Friday.
In a statement, Google said it would appeal the ruling, and that it conflicts with European law.
The case, however, also speaks to a larger issue faced by Internet companies: whether they should be held legally responsible for policing certain types of content. Google and others like Facebook and YouTube have said that they cannot monitor everything that is posted by their users.
Internet companies sometimes walk a tricky line, however, between balancing rights of free expression with graphic or other controversial content. Late last year Facebook removed a gruesome video of a beheading from its site, saying at the time that it would be re-examining some of its content policies.
In a September blog post related to the previous Mosley ruling, Google said that it offers tools to help people remove pages from search results when those pages have violated the law.
The Mosley case is about a single person and particular content, Google said Friday. But a company spokesman said that the ruling “sets a disturbing precedent that could require Internet services to monitor every bit of content they transmit or store for their users.”
Google said it did not have further details yet about when the appeal process would begin.