Google must reveal paid commentators after Oracle trial

Google logo Google had said that it might be "impossible" to identify every commentator it had financial links to

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Google has been ordered, for a second time, to reveal financial ties to people who commented about its recent legal dispute with Oracle.

A US judge said the search giant had "failed to comply" with his original deadline and has now given the firm until 24 August to file details.

Google had said it had needed further guidance to be able to give names.

The judge had said he had been "concerned" payments by both companies could have influenced media coverage.

In response to the first order, Google had said it had not paid any "author, journalist, commentator of blogger to report or comment" on the case, adding there had not been any other kind of "quid pro quo" (give-and-take) arrangements.

The firm did acknowledge it had financial connections to others who might have commented about the trial but said it would have been "extraordinarily difficult and perhaps impossible" to identify all of them.

On Friday it asked for clarification about how far it should go in order to avoid "flooding the court" with names.

For its part, Oracle named patent consultant and blogger Florian Mueller and Stanford law professor Paul Goldstein.

'Diligent search'

In his supplementary order, Judge Alsup made clear his original demand had not been limited to payments for comments or other "quid pro quo situations".

"Google suggests that it has paid so many commentators that it will be impossible to list them all," he wrote.

"Please simply do your best but the impossible is not required. Oracle managed to do it."

The judge said Google should list any consultant, contractor, vendor or employee it had paid who were known to be a "commenter".

He added that Google only needed to list organisations it had given money to, if it knew they employed people who had written or spoken about such matters.

In addition he said that gifts to universities could be ignored, and he did not need to know about bloggers who had signed up to the firm's Adsense advertisement placement programme.

"Google need only disclose those commenters that can be identified after a reasonably diligent search," he added.

A spokeswoman for the company said it had no further comment to make at this stage.

Bloggers' code

The original trial in San Francisco had centred on Oracle's claim it had been owed about $1bn (£640m) in compensation for Google's use of its technologies in the Android system.

But the jury ruled the patents involved had not been breached, while a judge dismissed the key copyright claim - a decision against which Oracle has said it would "vigorously appeal".

The fact that the case involved two of the biggest names in the US technology industry - including testimony from Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison and Google's Larry Page - meant it was widely covered by the blogosphere.

Chris Watson, partner at the UK law firm CMS Cameron McKenna, said there was a concern juries could be influenced by partisan social-media posts even though they were supposed to steer clear of any coverage of a case.

"The distinction between editorial and paid-for content is a very fine one, but it's crucial to readers and to journalism," he told the BBC.

"What all major companies are doing is what they have always done - pursue any means available to influence public opinion and the opinion of government and regulators.

"The most important control mechanism is transparency and we will only have that if there are enforceable guidelines - so at the least we now need a code of conduct for anyone who takes money and publishes comment."

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