Google slapped with libel claim
Because it's a search engine
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."®
I'm in full agreement with the analogy that Dotworlds is suing a highway for providing roads to cities he does not like.
The following is factually correct: Mr. Retkin is an idiot.
The following is probably correct, due to the idiocy of UK libel laws: He's going to be a very rich idiot unless Google buys an awesome attorney or pays off the right judge (who cares, its the UK, right? Just don't buy US judges, in my view. I'll reverse this opinion if Google beats Retkin in a fair fight)
In the US, a woman sues a furniture store because she trips over her own child and hits her head against a table. Millions of dollars awarded to her. The furniture store is toast, the owners' lives are ruined. Spoiled, spoiled woman.
This guy is just such a case. He could cause a huge amount of havoc to Google in the UK. He might not get a dime, but if they have to make changes and filter sites that so much as link to libel against him, it's going to cost them man hours and ad money. Being well acquainted with a Google employee, and being a programmer, I know that there are no magical solutions to change Google's crawler automation that won't bring considerable harm to Dotworlds, and eCommerce in general, especially in light of this shower of attention. For the only reasonable automatic way to cleanse Google of Dotworlds libel is to cleanse Google of Dotworlds, period. Which means that no traffic will be headed to Dotworlds from Google. Furthermore every single news outlet that has made mention of Dotworlds, past or present, could lose some traffic as well. All in all, potential millions of dollars lost.
Lame. This is Legal Terrorism.
Fact: Dotworlds is a terrorist organization.
My OPINION of DotWorlds and their related executives.
My OPINION (this is not a factual statement) is that the executives at DotWorld have provided substandard and shoddy service to customers and that they're now suffering the result of that provision. My opinion is that even if negative news were to appear on Google, that the positive opinions should outweigh the negative and any individual who was bothering to Google for such a worthless service to get reviews of it (which, in my field, I've never seen happen since any domain name with more than two dashes and unnecessary words generally means that you're nothing more than a scheister, idiot, moron, punk, what have you).
My OPINION is that the executives at DotWorld have realized that this may negatively impact their business (MAY, I doubt that any individual at that company has done any research to prove that any harm has been done) and now have turned to trying to "milk the cow" so to speak, SCO style.
It is my OPINION that DotWorlds and all related staff and executives could probably burn in the lower levels of Hell because they're nothing more than scum of the Earth which won't be missed.
But then again, that's just my OPINION, isn't it?
>>"People who don't rock the boat, who conform, who don't speak out against evil or corruption, aren't going to sympathize with those who "piss people off." Problem is that if we encourage people not to rock the boat, problems don't get solved because people are too afraid of retaliation to speak their minds."
As far as I'm aware, the guy in the current case isn't some nonconformist boat-rocking evil-fighting superhero being beaten into not speaking his mind.
He's someone with a business who seems to have a person out there with a grudge against his business for some reason or other.
That can still suck, if the complaints are factually incorrect, but it's maybe not quite the same as heroic free speech being silenced by anonymous establishment-backed critics.
>>"People who say "sue the original author" never have an answer for what to do if the original author is anonymous, other than "get over it.""
One could start by trying to get the site hosting the comments to remove them (if you can show they are untrue), so that no search engine could find them, or, if the site is a message board, make a posting explaining what the facts actually are, so people can see your side of the story.
If a site hosting negative comments *was* actually popular in itself, complaining to the site admins rather than Google would clearly be the first course of action.
One could also put some mention on one's own site "Someone without the decency to identify themselves is making up stories for one reason or another. The truth is actually...."