Google not guilty of indexing defamatory material

Posted on July 21, 2009

 

google-as-a-giant-robotIf someone posts defamatory material on a website about another person or company, who is responsible for the content?

Is it the person who posted the comments in the first place? Is it the owner of the website for allowing the comments to be posted? Or, as Metropolitan International Schools (Train2Game) tried to claim, is it the search engine for indexing the content?

Metropolitan International Schools took Google to court because Google had indexed content on a website that it believed was defamatory to its brand. It claimed that Google was responsible because snippets of the negative comments were made available in Google’s results pages, meaning that Google itself was republishing the negative comments.

However, a high court judge ruled otherwise, saying that Google was not responsible for the comments published on websites. Mr Justice Eady ruled that Google was not responsible for any comments made against the company Metropolitan International Schools.

When a snippet is thrown up on the user’s screen in response to his search, it points him in the direction of an entry somewhere on the web that corresponds, to a greater or lesser extent, to the search terms he has typed in.

It is for him to access or not, as he chooses. [Google] has merely, by the provision of its search service, played the role of a facilitator.

Following our post yesterday about poor reputation management techniques, news of this attempt by Metropolitan International Schools perfectly illustrates the point. Rather than attempting to take Google to court for the results pages it is showing, Metropolitan International Schools should have set about some advanced reputation management to bury the results within Google, rather than drawing attention to them in the world’s media and press. Now every news website will be running the story, focussing more attention on the negative comments than they originally brought.

A spokesperson for Google was delighted with the ruling:

We are pleased with this result, which reinforces the principle that search engines aren’t responsible for content that is published on third party websites. Mr Justice Eady made clear if someone feels they have been defamed by material on a website then they should address their complaint to the person who actually wrote and published the material, and not a search engine, which simply provides a searchable index of content on the internet.

As well as suing Google, Metropolitan International Schools are suing the website where the comments were made, Digital Trends. The case against Digital Trends is ongoing.

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