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Google Privacy The Almighty Buck The Courts Technology

Google Loses Street View Suit, Forced To Pay $1 225

Posted by timothy
from the token-victory dept.
Translation Error writes "Two and a half years ago, the Borings sued Google for invading their privacy by driving onto their private driveway and taking pictures of their house to display on Google Street View. Now, the case has finally come to a close with the judge ruling in favor of the Borings and awarding them the princely sum of $1. While the judge found the Borings to be in the right, she awarded them only nominal damages, as the fact that they had already made images of their home available on a real estate site and didn't bother to seal the lawsuit to minimize publicity indicated the Borings neither valued their privacy nor had it been affected in any great way by Google's actions."
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Google Loses Street View Suit, Forced To Pay $1

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  • Who paid the legal fees?
    • Each party bears its own costs. Google can afford it, though, I think. Don't know about the couple, but considering they originally sued for $25,000 (I imagine they were trying to get a quick cash settlement out of it), I'm thinking they probably wouldn't bear the burden quite so well.

    • Re:Great (Score:5, Funny)

      by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @07:43PM (#34425232) Journal

      Since the judge found for the plaintiff, you would have to assume each paid their own. If the Boring's lawyer worked on a contingency, that would land him around $0.33 cold hard cash, to spend as he would like.

      • by pnewhook (788591)

        Loser should always pay..

        • Re:Great (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:50PM (#34426008)

          I disagree in cases like these.

          Essentially what the judge has said here is that the Borings were technically correct, but the lawsuit was a complete waste of everyone's time.

          In that case, I'd be more inclined to say the Borings should pay for Google's expenses, but that's obviously unfair given the cost of Google's legal team. So each paying for their own is a-ok with me.

          • by pnewhook (788591)
            This is one of the rare cases that I agree that loser pays is unfair
            • That is why most countries that have "loser pays" do it at the discretion of the judge. You might be awarded damages or damages plus costs. In the UK the court can be asked to "tax" the costs, which means the judge reviews the costs, and if they are too high decides what reasonable costs should be and that it all the loser pays.

          • Essentially what the judge has said here is that the Borings were technically correct, but the lawsuit was a complete waste of everyone's time.

            One thing that isn't reported is that couple filed the original lawsuit before they asked Google to remove their home from Google's data. Also the Borings have won the latest round after they refiled since the original suit was dismissed on failing to state a claim. Judges tend not to like it when your first action is to sue another party rather than quietly working it out. Also they don't like it when they tell you that you don't have a case and you keep refiling trying to get around it.

          • In that case, I'd be more inclined to say the Borings should pay for Google's expenses, but that's obviously unfair given the cost of Google's legal team.

            In any sane loser-pays system the loser would pay either a standard rate or their own legal costs to the winning party. Either way, the cost of Google's legal team would be irrelevant; if they want to spend extra that's their business, but it won't increase their compensation should they happen to win—only their cost if they lose, since they would essentially be forcing the other side to pay more for equivalent representation.

            Of course, what's sane for plaintiffs and defendants may not be quite so ben

          • by hawk (1151)

            Under federal and most state rules, if Google had offered judgment (against itself) in the amount of $2 or more, it would not only be the prevailing party (allowing it to recover its costs--filing fees, photocopying, court reporters, etc.), but also its attorney fees from that point on . . .

            For those old enough to remember, the USFL did indeed win its antitrust suit agaiinst the NFL. While it one $1, which was tripoled, the significant effect of the win was the payment of several million dollars in attorne

          • by srussia (884021)
            In most "loser pays" jurisdictions, loser only pays if winner wins on all claims. This provides a disincentive to overclaim, even if you are right on some aspects.
  • by ArcadeNut (85398) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @07:40PM (#34425208) Homepage

    Will Google be allowed to make installment payments on that?

  • That's pretty much the judicial equivalent of saying "STFU!", isn't it?
    • by bonch (38532)

      He ruled in their favor.

  • Precedent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Caerdwyn (829058) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @07:48PM (#34425304) Journal

    But since American law operates as much upon precedent as statute, this has significance.

    Google (and others) now know it's not okay to come on to private property for photogathering without permission, and can't play dumb next time. Google wasn't trespassing "innocently" or "by mistake"; they were engaged in commercial activity and did what they did intentionally. The judge in the decision also laid out the circumstances under which the trespass would have higher costs. If Google does this to someone who DOES value their privacy, the cost would be higher, and if Google is caught doing this repeatedly then they are sooner or later going to run into a "You don't learn, do ya, boy?" judge. Remember also that trespassing is a criminal charge, and in many places the property owner could call the police or even make a citizen's arrest on the van with the funny thing on top.

    I'd be interested in seeing how Google would react if someone drove into their parking lot, hauled out a camera and started photographing their campus, their employees and their employees' cars, then claimed they weren't doing anything that Google wasn't themselves doing. I'm going to guess the answer would involve the Mountain View police and potentially DHS, (given that it's a high-value economic target to anti-capitalists).

    • Re:Precedent (Score:4, Interesting)

      by EasyTarget (43516) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @07:54PM (#34425366) Journal

      "I'd be interested in seeing how Google would react if someone drove into their parking lot, hauled out a camera and started photographing their campus"

      What? you mean like this...
      http://chrisonstad.blogspot.com/2007/02/my-trip-to-google-with-photos.html [blogspot.com]

      More: http://www.bing.com/search?q=my+photos+of+google+campus [bing.com]

    • Re:Precedent (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @07:57PM (#34425412)

      But since American law operates as much upon precedent as statute, this has significance.

      In the American system, a trial court decision has very little precedential weight (it is not binding precedent on the application of the law on any court in any future case, including even the same court, and may not even be allowed by court rules in many courts to be cited in other cases.)

    • Re:Precedent (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:06PM (#34425480)

      $1 is a common award for trespassing where the only "injury" is to the dignity of the property right. This case isn't significant precedent; it's following precedent. It's also not putting Google on notice or going to change anyone's behavior as everybody knows not to trespass, yet everybody does it some of the time. Ever turn around in a neighborhood by driving into some random person's driveway? Trespass! Just keep $1 around in case you ever get sued, because you will doubtless lose and be forced to cough up $1.

      • I never stick the nose of my car in past the inner edge of the sidewalk. That's a public easement.

    • Google wasn't trespassing "innocently" or "by mistake"; they were engaged in commercial activity and did what they did intentionally.

      I'd be interested in seeing how Google would react if someone drove into their parking lot, hauled out a camera and started photographing their campus, their employees and their employees' cars, then claimed they weren't doing anything that Google wasn't themselves doing. I'm going to guess the answer would involve the Mountain View police and potentially DHS, (given that it's a high-value economic target to anti-capitalists).

      Actually, a few quick corrections - While Google intended to take photographs, there is no proof they intended to trespass which is the aim of this particular lawsuit. There is also no proof that Google intended to extort or otherwise maliciously use the photographs they've gained.

      Judging by the tone of your final statement, your envisioned use of the Google pics may not be so innocent. While I agree you have just as much right to be on the Boring's private property as you do Google's, both entities have

    • Re:Precedent (Score:5, Informative)

      by russotto (537200) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:20PM (#34425644) Journal

      But since American law operates as much upon precedent as statute, this has significance.

      There's no precedent set by this decision. It's in a district court and it's a consent decree.

      • by delinear (991444)
        There is almost always precedent in previous cases. What you mean is that it's not binding precedent. A judge at the same level or higher is not forced to follow this decision next time (of course, a judge in a higher court wouldn't be forced to follow it anyway), but in many, many cases judges will rule as per previous findings unless there is a significant point on which the cases differ. If fifty previous judges have ruled one way on a certain set of facts, it's highly unlikely judge 51 will rule differe
      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        Yup, the only precedent set her is "Lawyers win again".
    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      Google wasn't trespassing "innocently" or "by mistake"; they were engaged in commercial activity and did what they did intentionally.

      If I remember right, there wasn't much of anything to indicate that the road was private. And while Google was intentionally engaging in commercial activity, there would be little indication that they were trespassing to do it.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      I think that was the point.

      In the case of the Borings, the lawsuit is borderline frivolous (because they obviously don't actually care about their privacy, so no harm was done). However, in many cases it is a big deal, and people really can suffer damages from these kinds of invasions of privacy.

      As such, it's important to slap the Borings' hands for bringing a frivolous lawsuit, while producing case-law that says Google's behavior is not acceptable.

      A $1 victory for the Borings accomplishes this. It essent

  • Ah, Trespassing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alaren (682568) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @07:49PM (#34425312)

    For those who haven't taken property or tort law classes, it's worth noting that $1 damages is not an uncommon award in trespassing cases. Punitive damages are unlikely if there is not a showing of disregarded warnings, maliciousness, or similar. Actual damages are more common but in many cases, there aren't any actual damages. Nominative damages are awarded in order to acknowledge the owners' property rights were indeed violated; depending on attorney's fees, this can be an extremely pyrrhic victory.

    I'm intrigued by the court's treatment of the privacy issues, though. In particular, we occasionally see stories around here where trespass law--and sometimes copyright law--is used to shut down and even jail photographers taking pictures in public places... but here we have the opposite, photography taking place in a private (if not entirely "private") space and the response is nominative damages against a wealthy corporation. It's a frustrating disconnect.

    (Yes, I am a lawyer, but of course none of this should be construed as legal advice.)

    • I'm intrigued by the court's treatment of the privacy issues, though. In particular, we occasionally see stories around here where trespass law--and sometimes copyright law--is used to shut down and even jail photographers taking pictures in public places... but here we have the opposite, photography taking place in a private (if not entirely "private") space and the response is nominative damages against a wealthy corporation. It's a frustrating disconnect.

      While I agree that both of those factors should be considered, IMHO (and I believe in the court's opinion too) the intent of the photographs is the determining factor.

      In many cases where courts have ruled against invasion of privacy in public places, the intent of the photographs was generally deformation of character to extortion and blackmail. When looking at the Google case, the pictures taken were not aimed to directly or even indirectly attack the Plaintiff, but instead was part of an automatic car

      • When looking at the Google case, the pictures taken were not aimed to directly or even indirectly attack the Plaintiff, but instead was part of an automatic car system which either took a wrong turn or was mapped improperly.

        Now that the case is over and they have some free time, Google's lawyers can divide up into two teams, and the side representing Google StreetView can sue the side representing Google Maps, to recover their damages in this case.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      It's a frustrating disconnect.

      Not really. As was noted in the article, the Borings had plastered information similar to that which Google collected all over the internet themselves, including pictures and its address. They clearly weren't concerned about their own privacy, they were just looking for a payday.

      It's like telling all your neighbors they can use your driveway to turn around in, and then suing a stranger for turning around in your driveway. Obviously you don't really care if someone turns around in your driveway, so if you

      • by BZ (40346)

        Actually, the driveway analogy is a bad one; it's quite different from the Borings' situation. I have several neighbors; I'm ok with them turning around in my driveway because I know them and trust them to, say, watch out for my kids in the process, because they know said kids exist. I don't thus trust the world.

        As another example, people are commonly ok with their family members (including somewhat extended family, easily dozends of people) or close friends doing things that are completely not ok for ran

    • by iceperson (582205)
      IANAL, but isn't there usually a big disconnect between civil and criminal courts?
    • but here we have the opposite, photography taking place in a private (if not entirely "private") space and the response is nominative damages against a wealthy corporation. It's a frustrating disconnect.

      I thought Google did not drive onto their private road to take photos but rather took photos of the private road from the public road.

    • If the Boring's had had the forethought to copyright their house they'd have control of all derivative works and a better standing to press for damages.

  • laugh out loud (Score:2, Interesting)

    by greymond (539980)

    So they have to pay a dollar...I wonder how much it cost in legal and a check fee for that...not that Google would care...

    So let's see, what's the worst way to deliver that $1? Pennies? A moist dollar? An out of state check/money order so it has a week hold on it?

    • by hedwards (940851)
      Given that the court can demand thousands of dollars be paid on short notice, I'd imagine that they'd be required to make it a lump sum. The only consideration at that point being ability to pay. Failure to pay when ordered and able can and does result in sanctions. Unfortunately Uncle Sam will want his cut which would probably be a quarter or so. And then the multi thousand dollar bill for the attorneys will probably have to be paid as well.

      All in all winning that $1 award will probably end up costing t
    • by pnewhook (788591)

      It would be really cool and appropriate if the Google lawyer swallowed the dollar, then fished it out of the toilet the next day and sent that dollar. Now *that* would be justice served.

    • I don't know what the current exchange rate with Vietnam is, but my suggestion is soggy dong. Best if delivered by James May on a Honda Cub.
    • I'd be pissed if some asshole company put a week hold on my very large, single dollar payout. Boy, waiting a week for a dollar? What a slap.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:01PM (#34425442)

    Really?

  • Good Judgement (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:01PM (#34425444) Journal
    Even though the details are pretty brief, it sounds like a good ruling.

    I think far too many people think that just because somebody wrongs you, you should be entitled to millions of dollars when you sue them even though what they did isn't all that damaging. Considering they could prove no ill effect to the Google car coming on to their property, they had no right to the $25,000 they claimed.

    I could see this as being an issue if one of the members of the house was in the witness protection program and had to be relocated because of the image or something similar to that, but there was no real damage here. Highly publicized rulings like this really help in the fight against frivolous lawsuits by putting those types of people back in check. Courts aren't designed to make someone unfairly rich, they're designed to recoup actual damages and that's it.
    • by Caerdwyn (829058)

      And that's why I think the judge returned the judgment as such.

      If Google can get away with driving into your driveway and taking pictures of your house, can Operation Rescue do that do a gynecologist? Can the Aryan Nation do that to an executive of the Anti-Defamation League? And could they point at this as precedent? (Almost as important: would they do it because they thought this was legal precedent, whether it actually is or isn't?) If Google gets away with trespassing for the purposes of photographing

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:07PM (#34425502)
    Nothing really to see there...I have been to their cookie-cutter house and man, are they Boring!
  • by Tsiangkun (746511) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:10PM (#34425528) Homepage
    I would think that if I, chose, to photograph my home. I would also get to chose what is visible in the yard, through the windows, in the drive, etc. I can chose to share photos I chose to take, any way I want. I took them, they are how I want my property presented, they don't invade my privacy. Having Google driving onto my property and take photos is completely different, and the judge seems to agree. I would have awarded them more than $1. They need to find something they authored in the street view photos, and then sue Google for copyright infringement for each use of the image. I hear that copyright infringement can get tens of thousands of dollars per shared item.
    • by dgatwood (11270)

      I would agree, had the pictures shown a clearly private place (e.g. if the street view cameras were taking pictures over the top of privacy fences). However, that wasn't the situation in this case (as far as I could tell). Although it is technically trespassing to drive into someone's driveway if they've posted a "No Trespassing" sign, you'd be hard pressed to show a significant loss of privacy given that:

      • Anyone could have walked up or driven up and seen the same thing.
      • The homeowners didn't feel their pr
    • "Having Google driving onto my property and take photos is completely different, and the judge seems to agree."

      Unless there is a huge fence, and they had to drive past it to take the photo, then there is no significant difference between taking the photo from their driveway and taking it from the street. I suspect the Judge was able to form this conclusion on her own, so I highly doubt that your conclusion that "the judge seems to agree" is anything more than magical thinking on your part. It would be con

      • I don't know about the local laws there,

        But here in Canada a "residential zoned property" cannot have a fence exceeding 1.5m (about 5') in the front of the property and everything visible from the street is free for the public to "make representations of". This includes commercial reproduction.
    • by pnewhook (788591)

      Google was probably wrong but it was a *mistake*. The fine was appropriate.

  • by rakuen (1230808) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:28PM (#34425716) Homepage
    You could have at least thrown in a coupon for Bennigan's! Make them feel like they won something!
  • by Bazar (778572) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:32PM (#34425788)

    I guess one could say that this case had

    *puts on shades*
    a Boring outcome

    YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH

  • by Stregano (1285764) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @08:45PM (#34425952)
    Why does this sound like some straight out of the movie Trading Places?

    "Here you go... ...1 dollar"
  • I'll buy THAT for a dollar.

  • I guess there just wasn't anything interesting to see at the Boring place.

  • Giant corp violate the law against individual, individual already posted picture elsewhere for free, judge awards nominal $1 to individual.

    Individual violate the law against giant corp, giant corp already broadcasted music over radio for free, judge awards statutory $750 per song to giant corp.

    WTF?!

    Seriously, privacy laws should state a minimum statutory damage per violation, for the same reason statutory damages is specified in copyright laws - difficult to quantify damage.

  • I can see street view pictures of some family's driveway, but not of many longtime streets around Denver. Thanks, googles.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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