When Rights Collide

Recently in Google Inc. v Equustek Solutions Inc., the Canadian Supreme Court decided that Google must be required to globally “de-index” websites that sold another company’s intellectual property in an illegal manner.

Proponents of the ruling argue this case provides a precedent for adequate protection of intellectual property rights.  Critics of the decision are worried that this case could be used as precedent, by authoritarian governments, to curtail websites’ freedom of expression and penalize dissenting websites. With more than 80% of the world lacking proper protection of free speech, according to the NGO Freedom House, this is a pertinent concern.

Both the critics’ and proponents’ arguments highlight a frequent theme; that intellectual property rights and other rights sometimes conflict. What rights should societies prioritize? Is this decision placing economic wealth above negative rights? Conversely, are critics of the decision being hyperbolic and overly focused on abstract themes?

Whatever the effects of the decision, the tension between intellectual property rights and other concerns will probably not be disappearing soon.



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