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Olympic champ's mom sues Google for dead blogger's post

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The mother of US Olympic speedskating phenomenon Shani Davis is suing Google for refusing to remove a posting to its Blogspot site that was made by a user who has since died.

It's questionable how far the lawsuit, filed last week in Illinois state court on behalf of Cherie Davis, is likely to get. Legal scholars say the Communications Decency Act (CDA) immunizes web hosting companies for postings made by their users. In theory, aggrieved parties are supposed to go after the people who actually penned the content, something that isn't possible in this case, since the blogger, Sean Healy, died of cancer a year after publishing the article in question.

Headlined Memo to Cherie Davis, the item alleges the speedskater's mother made disparaging comments about the views of the US Speedskating Federation. Cherie Davis made no statements of the kind, her lawyer, Kurt Kolar, insists, and because Healy is no longer around to atone for the alleged defamation, it is left to Google to make things right.

"The blog is dormant and no one really has any interest in keeping that up there," Kolar told The Register. "The purpose of the suit is to not squelch speech so to speak, but to get a defamatory statement removed from the internet via the party that is most able to do so."

The Blogspot item is especially egregious because it pops up first in Google searches querying Cherie Davis's name, Kolar said.

Perhaps, but it will be interesting to see how far the suit gets. As already pointed out, there's this thing called the CDA that most lawyers agree pretty much gives Google a green light to proceed as it has so far, which is to steadfastly refuse to remove allegedly defamatory content.

What's more, Cherie Davis has taken no action against Australian newspaper The Age, which was the source of the allegedly defaming statements. Depending on the day, that article, which cites several emails Cherie Davis allegedly sent, appears about dozen results from the top.

Not that the suit is hopeless. Kolar's ace in the hole may be winning a court order declaring the posting is, in fact, defamatory. While Google refuses to remove allegedly libelous content, "the only exception to this rule is if the material has been found to be defamatory by a court, as evidenced by a court order," Google says. ®

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