SAN JOSE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A class action lawsuit has been filed against Google, claiming the company unlawfully denies payments to thousands of website owners and operators who placed ads on their sites sold through Google AdWords.
The lawsuit, which was filed May 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims Google canceled website owners' AdSense accounts often without explanation shortly before payments were due and refused to pay for the ads that ran prior to the cancelation.
Free Range Content Inc. claims the AdSense program is enormously popular, which translates annually to billions of dollars payable to AdSense publishers.
As the plaintiff and many other publishers have found, Google often shuts down AdSense accounts shortly before a periodic payment is due and then denies the publisher the entirety of the expected payment, not withstanding all the ads the publisher already has served to visitors to its website during the payment period, according to the suit.
"This wrongful practice has sparked numerous bitter complaints from website owners across the Web, with some reporting losses reaching thousands of dollars a pop," said Steve Berman, attorney representing consumers and founding partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.
Free Range claims it is Google's wrongful refusal to pay terminated AdSense publishers the monies they have earned and are owed that is the subject of the lawsuit.
Google's actions constitute breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment and violation of the California Unfair Competition Law, according to the suit.
Google's AdSense advertising program induces website operators to host space for ads on their websites.
Each time a visitor to the website interacts with the ad, the ad publisher who hosts the ad earns payment, according to the suit.
Free Range claims that the contracts and terms of service Google requires web publishers to sign are unconscionably one-sided, giving Google free reign to embark on what the suit claims are actions devoid of good faith or fair dealing.
"Given Google's contractual terms purportedly permitting it to withhold payment to publishers with disabled accounts, and in light of the experience of the plaintiff in seeing this policy actually effected, the total of earned funds that Google has refused to pay its AdSense publishers could be enormous," the complaint states.
Free Range owns the website Repost.us, according to the suit, and in July 2012, it became an AdSense publisher for pages served on various websites under its Repost.us brand.
In February, when estimated earnings for ads by the plaintiff, as reported by Google, began to increase at a previously unseen rate, the plaintiff took note of the earnings spike and self-reported it to Google, asking for help to ascertain why it was happening and also seeking aid to correct it as needed.
Shortly after the plaintiff reached out to Google, it received a note asking it to set up an appointment to speak with a representative from the AdSense team and scheduled a call for March 6, according to the suit.
At the end of February, Google issued a report stating that Free Range's estimated earnings for the covered period were more than $40,000, which, to the plaintiff, seemed unlikely based on its history with the program, but instead should have been approximately $11,000, according to the suit.
Free Range claims on March 4, two days before the scheduled call with AdSense, it received word from the AdSense program that Google had disabled its account.
Free Range claims it promptly filed an appeal, which was rejected on March 7.
Free Range is seeking damages for all U.S. Google AdSense publishers whose AdSense accounts were disabled or terminated and those whose last AdSense program payment was withheld permanently by Google. It is being represented by Burman, Robert F. Lopez and Jeff D. Friedman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP; and John Jenkins and Andrew Levetown of Levetown & Jenkins LLP.
The case has been assigned to District Judge Beth Labson Freeman.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case number: 5:14-cv-02329
From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at email@example.com.