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Israel: Court Decides Google Search Keywords Are in Public Domain

(Oct. 9, 2012) On September 11, 2012, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected a suit by a plastic surgeon who advertised his services on Google Adwords, an advertising service operating in coordination with Google. He argued that the placement on Adwords of advertisements of two rival companies that provided similar plastic surgery services in <?Israel, triggered by searches conducted through the use of his name as search keywords, constituted a violation of his right to privacy in accordance with section 2(6) of the Privacy Protection Law, 5741-1981. This Law defines violation of a person's privacy, among other things, as any use, for profit, without the individual's consent, of his name or nickname, photograph, or voice.

In rejecting the claim of violation of privacy, Judge Yehuda Fargo concluded that the plaintiff had only purchased an ad on Google’s billboard, not the search keywords that constituted the plaintiff’s name. Keywords, the judge determined, are an integral part of the search engines of various websites, such as Google. Through the use of keywords, the public is able to retrieve information. These keywords, therefore, belong to the public that utilizes them in endless combinations in order to obtain the information sought. Accordingly, the plaintiff could not demand ownership or exclusive use of any search keywords, including those that constitute his name. Moreover, the plaintiff could not prevent any other business entity from having advertisements placed on the billboard as the result of a keyword search based on the plaintiff’s name.

According to Judge Fargo, the appearance of the respondents’ ads on Google’s billboard did not create any confusion. The respondents’ ads appeared under their own names and under the heading “sponsored links,” among other ads on the billboard. Judge Fargo deemed it hard to believe that anyone who looked specifically for information about the plaintiff would confuse the plaintiff’s site with other websites that appear on the billboard. (1147-09 Rony Moscona v. Proportsia PMC Inc. (Tel Aviv District Court decision rendered on Sept. 11, 2012) [in Hebrew], TAKDIN LEGAL DATABASE (TAKDIN) [by subscription]; Privacy Protection Law, 5741-1981 35 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL 136 (5741-1980/81), as amended; up-to-date version available in TAKDIN [in Hebrew].)