Google admits trespassing, pays $1
Street View lawsuit in Pa. is considered a first.
FRANKLIN PARK, Pa., - A 21/2-year court battle against Google Inc. that ended in a $1 consent judgment against the computer giant wasn't about the money.
So said Gregg R. Zegarelli, the attorney for two Allegheny County residents in their federal lawsuit over a trip down their private road by the driver of a Google photography vehicle. The formal legal proceedings ended Thursday, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon accepted the consent judgment confirming that Google trespassed and that Aaron and Christine Boring, of Franklin Park, are due a dollar.
"Google is an intentional trespasser. There is a judgment against Google forevermore," Zegarelli said.
Whether that will affect the googling of Earth is as yet unclear. The firm said it has no intention of halting its practice of photographing streetscapes everywhere for its searchable Street View feature, and emphasized the nominal amount of the judgment.
Google is "pleased that this lawsuit has finally ended with plaintiffs' acknowledgment that they are entitled to only $1," a company statement said.
Zegarelli noted that the circumstances of the case were unusual: The driver of Google's vehicle traveled a thousand feet down a private road marked with no trespassing signs, took a picture, and put it online with millions of others, the vast majority of which were taken from public streets. This is believed to be the first such suit against Google.
"If they do it again, arguably they're a habitual trespasser," said Zegarelli, of the Technology & Entrepreneurial Ventures Law Group in Pittsburgh. "If they do it a third time, then they're arguably disregarding rights" and could be subjected to a significant penalty.
The big issue for the Borings - Aaron the computer professional and Christine the teacher, both in their 30s - was the implication that Google can assemble unlimited data on people, Zegarelli said.
"Google is a private database being filled with data. Sooner or later, there will be releases of data from that, or leaks of that data," he said. "Does everybody want to live in a world where Google has that sort of a power over all of that information?"
Google's Street View cameras, he said, sometimes capture the insides of homes through open doors, or the actions of people on the street.
Zegarelli said his clients had considered, early this year, the possibility that they might lose and be subject to a bill for Google's defense costs. They opted to soldier on, submitting a vast information request before negotiating the consent judgment.
He would not say whether the Borings had spent significant money on legal representation, but said he was not asking Google to pay his costs or bills. The Borings could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit was dismissed in February 2009 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay, but one count - accusing Google of trespassing - was revived by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in January. The Borings then tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal on the other counts, but the justices declined.
The trespassing count then went to Bissoon.
"The Borings stuck it out against Google," Zegarelli said, "and they should really be commended for that."