Suspended AdSense publisher sues Google and wins

Have you had your account suspended by AdSense?  Most publishers end up losing the revenue earned after the last check had been issued.  Depending on the publisher, this could obviously vary from a few pennies to thousands of dollars.  So one publisher, Aaron Greenspan of Think Computer Corporation, decided to sue Google for that amount, in his case $721.00… and won.

Aaron received the standard Google AdSense suspended account email stating his account had been disabled.  And he decided to try contacting Google in any way he could in order to get his AdSense account reinstated.  First he went the online route, contacting support and filing an appeal but did not get a response.  So he phoned the Googleplex trying to talk to anyone in AdSense or even legal, to no avail.  He even tried going through AdWords, since he was also an AdWords advertiser, and hit a brick wall there too.

He also tried to sign up for AdSense for Domains, but was also declined, since once a site is suspended, it can no longer run AdSense of any kind.  He eventually found a workaround with Sedo, which ironically serves Google AdSense on parked pages, but since Sedo is effectively a reseller of AdSense, the revenue dropped significantly. 

So, what Aaron Greenspan did next is what all suspended publishers would love to do – he sued Google in small claims court for the $721 owing.

On January 15, 2009, I walked over to the Santa Clara County courthouse in Palo Alto, which conveniently fell within the same county lines as Google’s home of Mountain View, and filed a civil small claims lawsuit for $721.00–the amount Google owed Think when it disabled the account–using form SC-100. For a total of $40.00 in court fees, I arranged for Google, Inc. to be served by certified mail. The hearing was scheduled for March 2, 2009.

Interestingly enough, lawyers are not permitted in small claims court so Google sent a paralegal who ironically was not even told of why Aaron Greenspan’s account was disabled, so was not able to provide any reasons behind the termination, which was very likely the main reason behind the final decision.  So in the end, the judge sided with Aaron for the $721 (plus the $40 filing fee), although the judge declined to force Google to reinstate Aaron’s AdSense account, despite Milani saying the money had already been returned to the advertisers who paid for the clicks originally.

Ms. Milani reiterated her previous arguments, but the judge didn’t buy them. “I don’t think I have the power here in Palo Alto small claims court to make you reinstate his account, but I think you owe this young man $721,” he said finally. “I think there might be money in Google’s treasury for that.”

This does raise a lot of interesting points.  Will Google now be bombarded with hundreds or thousands of suspended publishers who want the balance remaining in their account?  Now, I do now that in some instances the balance is paid out, not all terminations mean a loss of whatever revenue was still owing in the account.

If the judge had forced Google to reinstate the account, it would put the AdSense terms of service in an interesting position, since those terms effectively state Google can terminate an account for any reason, whether it is invalid clicks or anything else. 

And what if the paralegal had come with all the information regarding why the account was suspended, particularly if invalid clicks was the reason?  Google losing a case for $721 is far less dangerous to the AdSense program than if the paralegal had come with documents supporting how Google determines whether clicks are invalid or not.  You know if she had, those documents would be torn apart and reverse engineered by publishers gone bad who are trying to determine how they could commit click fraud on their account without getting caught.

It will be interesting to see if more cases are brought against Google by suspended publishers.  And if they do, if Google will be sending more information to court with their paralegals to defend themselves. 

And if you are considering in small claims, do keep in mind that the AdSense terms state that any dispute or claim “shall be adjudicated in Santa Clara County, California”. 

So what does everyone think?  And if you are a suspended publisher, are you going to file in small claims to see about getting the money owed?  Or are you rooting for Google, since it is “bad” publishers who cause advertisers to disable advertising in the content network completely, meaning less revenue available for all publishers.

Update:  Susan did some digging around, and it turns out this publisher was clearly violating the AdSense terms by using AdSense on a parked domain that had nothing but a large AdSense ad unit in the middle of the page.

Aaron Greenspan posted the following on the AdSense support forums immediately after he was suspended.

I have a domain name that gets a lot of traffic, and I wanted to sign up for AdSense for Domains when I purchased the domain back in April. At the time it looked like the program was closed, but the page encouraged people to sign up for normal AdSense accounts, which I did. Instead of using the AdSense for Domains page, which I couldn’t, I put an AdSense block in the middle of the page, and a lot of people clicked on it for several months. Today, Google cancelled my account citing the verbiage about posing a risk to advertisers.

When someone pointed out that he had no content and was in violation of the AdSense terms, he responded:

I suppose I didn’t realize that not having content was forbidden with typical AdSense (as I don’t see that in the Terms and Conditions, but maybe I missed it). In any event, it seems disingenuous of Google to encourage people who are obviously looking to park domains with no content to sign up for a program that will penalize them for having no content. It was an honest mistake if it was a mistake at all. Google certainly profited from my traffic…

He also posted a lengthy post threatening legal action.

If the publisher had read the terms and policies (which he would have had to agree to when he signed up) he would have known that the policies state “No Google ad may be placed on any non-content-based pages.”  And yes, a page with nothing on it but an AdSense ad unit in the middle definitely qualifies as non-content.

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