Are Google’s search results protected by the First Amendment?

May 24, 2012

Google's new music search feature is dem

Google’s music search feature is demonstrated at a press conference to announce the new feature, called OneBox, at Capitol Records headquarters in Los Angeles on October 28, 2009. Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Do you consider Internet search engines like Google to be publications that fall into the same category as newspapers and magazines or do you consider them to be utilities that provide services like gas or electric companies?

This question lies at the heart of a growing debate over how search engines like Google should be regulated. If search engines are determined to be private publications, then they are protected by First Amendment free speech rights; however, if they are determined to simply be public service providers, then Google may be found guilty of providing biased services to consumers by unfairly using search algorithms to render “cooked” search results that favor Google and undercut competing firms.

Lower court decisions in two cases, ‘Search King, Inc. v. Google Technology, Inc.’ and ‘Christopher Langdon v. Google Inc.,’ have found Google to be protected under the First Amendment, but critics argue that Google is using its dominance as a search engine to monopolize other industries and crush its competitors in those markets.


Should Google be free to manipulate search results or does the company have a responsibility to consumers to provide fair access to all businesses through its dominant search engine?


Eugene Volokh, professor of law at the UCLA School of Law where he teaches free speech law, criminal law and tort law

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