In a case that has attracted a lot of global attention, a British High Court ruled that Google is not the publisher of defamatory words that appear in its search results. Google's U.S. and U.K. operations were sued in England by a training business based in London. Metropolitan International Schools Ltd. (MIS) runs distance learning courses, which some user forums called "nothing more than a scam" among other derogatory comments.
Noting that there were precious few precedents, Mr. Justice Eady found that Google was merely a facilitator of the search results and therefore not liable for any defamation, even upon notice of the allegedly defamatory search results.
Google had in fact blocked specific URLs identified by MIS. Justice Eady agreed with Google's contention that "it is practically impossible, and certainly disproportionate, to expect [Google, Inc.] to embark on a wild goose chase in order to determine where the words complained of, or some of them, might from time to time 'pop up' on the Web."
The decision left open what might have happened if Google had not blocked the URLs in question, leaving many of us to wonder what a search engine's responsibility may be when it is notified of the existence of defamatory material.
Justice Eady thought the proper course of action was against the company (Designtechnica) which hosted the defamatory comments on its Digital Trends website.
My thanks to my colleague across the pond, Ian Henderson, for passing this case on.
E-mail: email@example.com Phone: 703-359-0700