Saturday, 18 July 2009

Search Engine Results not Defamatory

In what appears to be another victory for Google, the search engine giant has been cleared of liability for search results published when users make searches even if the result contains defamatory statements. This was the result of the UK High Court case of Metropolitan International Schools Ltd. v Designtechnica & Google et. al.

Information service providers already enjoy immunities provided by the E-Commerce Regulations in UK. Immunity afforded under the Regulations can be conveniently labelled as "mere conduit" (Art. 17), 'caching" (Art. 18) or "hosting" (Art. 19) services. The case revolved around defamatory search results about the services of the claimant that were published whenever searches were conducted using claimants' name. Back in Brunei, the situation is not as benevolent. While there are provisions for immunities similar to the mere conduit and caching part of the services, an ISP in Brunei can still be liable for hosting content which is defamatory or offends the law. So far, the best place for an ISP to be is the U.S due its very liberal and free-speech protective law.

While there have been UK decisions on ISP liability for defamatory content, this case involving Google breaks new ground in the UK as this is the first decision relating to liability for search results which publishes 'snippets' of information as opposed to carrying the whole defamatory article. Eady J. found that Google was not the publisher of the defamatory article in providing search services. The judgment is available here.

I am a supporter of intermediary liability in the context of ISPs as I believe the internet and the services we have grown accustomed to, will not work without it. Imagine an ISP having to trawl the net for offending material and removing them everytime. Firstly, the sheer volume of information on the net makes this time consuming and cost ineffective. Secondly, to paraphrase Scott McNealy, "Its the information age. Get over it!". The genie of information has gotten out and it ain't going back into its bottle ever!

Having said that, while Google got away with it, the judge held that the the claimant's action should be aimed at the originator of the defamatory remarks. So there is definitely no change on this front as far as libel law is concerned.

Till the next time then, stay safe on the Internet.

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