A few weeks ago, Google lost a lawsuit over its Street View feature. The reporting about the case was generally off the mark, so let me try to clear things up.
In the federal lawsuit, Aaron and Christine Boring of Franklin Park, Pa. won $1 in damages against Google, Inc. for trespassing.
Press coverage (e.g., this not-very-well-written story) made it sound as if Google incurred liability by taking a picture of private property and displaying it on the internet. That’s not the case. The reason Google was liable for trespassing is because Google drove its Street View car onto private land, going up a private road that was marked with a “No Trespassing” sign.
In other words, the case doesn’t say it’s trespassing to take a picture of private property and display it on the internet. (Indeed it’s not.) What the case means is that it’s trespassing to trespass.
So, if you are a blogger, this case shouldn’t make you nervous about posting pictures of private property – unless those pictures serve as evidence of your having done something unlawful.
And that’s what Google did. By posting the pictures, they proved that they committed a civilly actionable trespass. It also would appear that Google violated Pennsylvania criminal trespass statute at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3503.
It was absurd for Google to fight this in court. They should have respected the law, and they should have respected private property rights. It’s too bad they only had to pay a dollar. I personally think a small measure of punitive damages would have been in order.
It’s another case of Google doing whatever Google gets ready to do – regardless of the law.
And they keep getting away with it.