MIAMI, 2 DECEMBER 2010 - After a legal battle that lasted two-and-a-half years, Google has been found guilty of trespassing on a Pennsylvania family's property to take photos of their property for its Maps website.
However, the penalty is nominal: Google will have to pay only US$1 to Aaron and Christine Boring, who sued Google in 2008, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Earlier this week, Judge Cathy Bissoon, from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, wrapped up the case with a consent judgment, which means both parties agreed to the final resolution terms.
Back in 2008, the Borings charged Google with invading their privacy, acting negligently, being unjustly enriched and trespassing after a Google Street View car entered and photographed their Pittsburgh property -- which includes a private road leading to their house -- and the photo was published in the Maps site.
"This is one sweet dollar of vindication," the Borings said in a statement.
The lawsuit was dismissed in February 2009, but the Borings appealed to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the lower court.
A Google spokesman said via e-mail that the company welcomes the case's resolution. "We are pleased that this lawsuit has finally ended with plaintiffs' acknowledgement that they are entitled to only $1," he said.
While not technically so, a consent judgment is very much like a settlement because the litigating parties reach a mutually agreeable resolution and present it to the judge for approval and signing, said Eric Goldman, associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law and director of its High Tech Law Institute.
"I interpret this as a settlement," he said in a phone interview.
While Google admits guilt in the trespassing charge, the public doesn't get the judge's opinion on the merits of the allegation, said Goldman.
With Google's penalty a nominal dollar, the plaintiffs' legal victory is very minor, he said.
At best, the plaintiffs proved that Google made a trespassing mistake, but evidently they were unable to prove that Google's action negatively affected them in any significant way, according to Goldman.
"They could never make a good demonstration of harm," he said.
In that sense, this case is similar to many other lawsuits in which plaintiffs allege privacy or trespassing breaches, but can't show the court how they were hurt.
"The courts are saying: 'Show me how the privacy violation hurt you, and if you can't, I don't have anything for you,'" he said.
In fact, the case may have cost the Borings a lot of money in legal fees, unless their law firm waived the fees, in which case the firm lost out on getting paid for its work. The Google spokesman said that Google provided no remuneration nor fee reimbursement of any kind to the plaintiffs.
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