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Appeals Court Rejects Conservative Group's Free-Speech Lawsuit Against YouTube

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Wednesday rejected a free-speech lawsuit filed against YouTube and Google by a conservative nonprofit group.

Prager University, also known as PragerU, claimed YouTube and its parent company, Google, violated PragerU's constitutional First Amendment right of free speech by designating some of its videos for restricted mode.

PragerU, founded by radio talk show host Dennis Prager, is a media organization that creates five-minute videos giving a conservative viewpoint on social and political topics. YouTube's optional restricted-mode setting enables users such as libraries and parents to block age-inappropriate content.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously dismissed PragerU's lawsuit, saying that YouTube is a private platform and not a government entity that would be subject to the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. The free-speech requirement applies only to the government, the court noted.

Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote, "Despite YouTube's ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, it remains a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment."

The panel cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have held that providing a platform for speech by others does not transform a private organization into an entity acting as a government.

The court also rejected a second claim in which PragerU contended that YouTube engaged in false advertising by making statements such as "everyone deserves to have a voice."

McKeown wrote, "YouTube's braggadocio about its commitment to free speech constitutes opinions" that are not subject to the federal law prohibiting false advertising.

The appeals court upheld a similar ruling in which U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of San Jose dismissed the case in 2018.

PragerU attorney Peter Obstler said, "We're obviously disappointed. The court's ruling today concerned two very important issues but they were narrow issues."

He said he is pursuing other claims against YouTube in the state court system on behalf of other clients.

YouTube spokesman Farshad Shadloo said in a statement, "Google's products are not politically biased. We go to extraordinary lengths to build our products and enforce our policies in such a way that political leanings are not taken into account.

"Our platforms have always been about sharing information everywhere and giving many different people a voice, including PragerU, who has over 2 million subscribers on their YouTube channel. The court's ruling vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users," Shadloo said.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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