Feeds

Google slapped with libel claim

Because it's a search engine

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Google links to more than 11.5bn web pages - and it's responsible for the content posted to every single one them. At least, Brian Retkin thinks so.

The 48-year-old Londoner has filed a defamation action against the American search giant, claiming that Google refuses to remove links to sites that libel his company, dotWORLDS. Retkin's story was first reported in The Independent, although the paper incorrectly claimed that he had "sued" the California-based outfit. He and his lawyer have issued a "pre-action protocol," threatening to sue if Google doesn't comply with their demands.

"They've removed libel about us before, but it has re-appeared on their UK website," Retkin told The Register. "We believe this leaves them open to action."

According to Retkin, anonymous third-parties have posted libel about dotWORLDS for several years, maliciously claiming that the company used the September 11 terrorist attacks to promote its domain name registration business. Since 2003, he says, Google has removed various posts to its own discussion groups at his request, but its search engine continues to turn up links to offensive third-party sites. If Google doesn't give him a written promise to permanently remove the links, he plans to sue.

Libel laws are tighter in the UK than in the U.S., and Retkin is confident that, even though Google isn't hosting the offending content, the company can be held responsible. "Google purports not to be a publisher, but there's a very fine line there," he says. "Google is presenting these third-party sites to the world. The sites they're linking to are completely obscure. You wouldn't find them if Google didn't link to them."

In the States, Retkin wouldn't have much of a case. Search engines and internet service providers are protected against this sort of defamation suit. "Here in the U.S., there are First Amendment protections that insulate them from liability," says Todd Bonder, a new media expert with the international law firm Rosenfeld, Meyer, and Susman. "If they merely link to other sites, they're protected. They're not posting. They're not publishing. They're just identifying."

In Britain, however, it's yet to been seen if a company like Google is afforded the same protection. Under the British Defamation Act 1996, a search engine can claim it was unaware of libelous material turning up on its showing in its search results, but Rektin says he has notified Google on countless occasions.

British law also makes it easier to show that published content is indeed libelous. In the U.S., the defendant must prove that the offending material in true. On the other side of the Atlantic, the plaintiff must prove that the material is false. "You don't have a First Amendment in the UK," Bonder continues. "The UK libel laws are much more problematic." But, as Bonder points out, that's only an issue in this case if Google is considered a publisher.

If the the suit is successful, it could have widespread consequences - not just for search engines but for all sorts of other internet service providers that link to third-party content. And according to Bonder, if Retkin wins a suit in the UK, he could bring it to the U.S., attempting to block content served up to UK users on Google's stateside servers.

That's exactly what Brian Retkin plans to do. "Our position is going to be that, if Google can't filter all the content that's reaching UK users, they're going to have to remove the libel in the States as well."®

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.