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Welcome to the website of the Internet and Intellectual Property Justice Clinic, a University of San Francisco School of Law clinical program that provides legal assistance to parties in intellectual property matters. For more information, see the "About Us" page.

Our website includes commentary from our students on cutting-edge internet law and intellectual property topics. Those posts are listed below, and more are archived under "Pages" on the right. Enjoy!

Google and Censorship

By Wei Z.

With the development of information technology, internet service providers are able to serve their consumers with unlimited kinds of information, across all geographical boundaries. Internet users in almost every corner of the earth can easily benefit from the advantages of information from the internet. However, a series of problems have risen. And, among the problems, a hot topic is whether Internet Service Providers should comply with the local legal regulations.

As is well known, Google Inc. withdrew from China on March 23, 2010, because the company did not want to self-censor the results of searches on its Chinese site, google.cn. Since Google opened the China-based service about three years ago, it has filtered responses to users’ searches to remove results that the government finds unacceptable, including pornography and content on political topics such as the Chinese human rights issues. Despite the self-censorship, however, Google has drawn a strong following, especially among educated and wealthier Chinese Internet users. China has 338 million Internet users as of June of 2009 and Google has 30% of the search market.

Considering the huge economic benefit of operating in China, Google Inc. did not leave this attractive market entirely. Google chose instead to move to Hong Kong and tries to reach its Chinese customers through its search engine based in Hong Kong, where there is no censorship. However, it was reported that when users in China use Google as a search engine, some sensitive content has been blocked. That means the conflicts between Google and Chinese government have not ended. Although Hong Kong has a separate legal system from China, it still is part of China. About the issue of Google’s leaving China, China’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology warned Google: “If you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to bear the consequences.”

China’s Censorship Regulations

China has censorship regulations. In September 2000, the State Council Order No. 292 in China created the first content restrictions for Internet content providers. China-based Web sites cannot link to overseas news Web sites or carry news from overseas media without separate approval. Only “licensed print publishers” have the authority to publish news on-line. Non-licensed Web sites that wish to broadcast news may only publish information already released publicly by other news media. These sites must obtain approval from state information offices and from the State Council Information Agency. Article 11 of this order mentions that “content providers are responsible for ensuring the legality of any information disseminated through their services.

Article 14 gives Chinese officials full access to any kind of sensitive information they wish: “an IIS provider must keep a copy of its records for 60 days and furnish them to the relevant state authorities upon demand in accordance to the law.” Finally, article 15 defines what information must be restricted: “IIS providers shall not produce, reproduce, release, or disseminate information that endangers national security, is detrimental to the honor of the state, undermines social stability and the state’s policy towards religion and other information prohibited by the law or administrative regulations”.

In November 2003,China began to operate the Golden Shield Project, often referred to as the 'Great Firewall of China.' This is a censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) division of the government of China. It has been nicknamed the Great Firewall of China in reference to its role as a network firewall and to the ancient Great Wall of China. A major part of the project includes the ability to block content by preventing IP addresses from being routed through and consists of standard firewalls and proxy servers at the Internet gateways. Like the Great Wall of China, the Great Firewall of China has the same purpose: to protect the national security from threat.

Restrictive Regulations Outside of China

Computer-based communications which cut across territorial borders, create a new realm of human activity and can undermine the feasibility and legitimacy of laws based on geographic boundaries. Because of this, many governments’ first response to electronic communications crossing their territorial borders is to try to stop or regulate that flow of information. Even local governments in the United States have expressed concern about their loss of control over information and transactions flowing across their borders. But, efforts to control the flow of electronic information across physical borders are likely to prove futile, at least in countries that hope to participate in global commerce. Faced with their inability to control the flow of electronic signals across physical borders, some authorities strive to inject their boundaries into the new electronic medium through filtering mechanisms and the establishment of electronic barriers. Many countries have set up a censorship system. Besides China, Arab countries have heavy surveillance system. United States, United Kingdom, France, German, Italy, and other countries also set up the censorship systems with different standards.

Even Google itself commonly censors information from its services or subsidiary companies, such as YouTube, in order to comply with its company policies, legal demands, or various government censorship laws. Google censors search results to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act-related legal complaints in the United States.

In Europe, Italy has one of the lowest levels of press freedom. Censorship is applied in television and in the press for several reasons. Legal tools there are in development to monitor and censor Internet access and content. Some examples are Romani law, a special law proposed by parliament after Facebook’s cases of group protest against Prime Minister Berlusconi.

On February 24, one former Google Inc. executive and two current managers at the company were found guilty of privacy violations by a court in Milan. The criminal convictions sprang from an incident in which a group of Italian school kids uploaded a video to Google Video. The video showed them bullying an autistic classmate. Regardless if there is direct evidence for the court to make the decision, it is obvious that the court in Milan is not satisfied with Google’s actions: allowing the posting on Google Video of a mobile-phone video showing the harassment of a handicapped youth by his Turin classmates, and taking two months to remove the video, which was posted in Google Italy’s “Most Fun Videos” section and received 5,500 hits before being removed.

Of course Google is not satisfied with the conviction either. Currently, Google only implemented “notification-and-take-down” policy, which does not meet the censorship standard in Italy.


Google decided to withdraw from China because of the requirement for self-censorship. Will Google have to withdraw from Italy because of the criminal conviction? Criminal convictions are considered more serious than a requirement of self-censorship. As to the censorship system in other countries, Google will probably have to withdraw from all the heavy surveillance countries someday.

If Google’s purpose is to make its business as successful as possible, withdrawing from the market is a large problem for Google. Internet Service Providers, however, cannot claim immunity from local government regulations. As Bill Gates said: "You've got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws of the countries you're in, or not? If not, you may end up not doing business there."