British court rules Google could sued for failing to remove libelous comments from search
By Lisa O’Carroll, The Guardian
Landmark ruling that tech giant could be liable for comments if it has been notified of them and failed to remove them.
Google may have to act quicker to remove potentially libellous posts from its Blogger.com following a court of appeal ruling in London.
The court ruled that a gap of five weeks between a complaint being made and the removal of allegedly defamatory comments on a blogpost could leave it open to a libel action, overturning a finding in the high court last year.
However in making his ruling the master of the rolls, Lord Justice Richards, took the decision to side with the high court and refuse the overall appeal of the original libel action in the high court because of lack of evidence about how many people had read the offending blog comments.
Ian de Freitas, commercial litigator with Berwin Leighton Paisner, said the ruling was “a blow” to Google.
“It is a blow to the technology platform providers because the court of appeal decided that Google is arguably responsible for the postings by the blogger once they have been notified of them and have failed to take them down,” he added.
The case centred on Payam Tamiz, a former Conservative party local council candidate and law student who last year failed in his high court attempt to sue Google Inc over comments on the London Muslim blog, which was set up on the search giant’s Blogger platform.
The case is being seen as a landmark action because it the first time the higher court has addressed the issue of Google’s liability for defamation on its blogging platform.
Tamiz had initiated proceedings against Google Inc and Google UK after the company failed to promptly remove remarks about him on the London Muslim blog in July 2011. Tamiz subsequently settled his claim against Google UK but obtained permission to serve his claim in a London court against Google Inc.
Some of the comments including false claims Tamiz was a drug dealer and a thief, were defamatory, but Eady ruled that no libel action could be heard because Google could not be deemed to be a publisher in its own right.
Eady said Google’s responsibility for online slurs was no more than that of an “unfortunate owner” of a wall “festooned with defamatory graffiti”.
Eady had noted a period of five weeks had elapsed between Tamiz’s letter of complaint about the remarks and their removal by Blogger, but said while this was “somewhat dilatory” it was “not outside the bounds of a reasonable response”.
The court of appeal found otherwise and said five weeks “was sufficiently long to leave room for an inference adverse to Google Inc”.
Iain Wilson, solicitor for Tamiz, said he was “disappointed with the outcome of the appeal but happy to have played a role in clarifying the law for the benefit of others who might be defamed by online publications”.
Google said it would continue to operate within the law. “Where content is illegal or violates our terms of service we will continue to remove it,” said a spokeswoman.
• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly “for publication”.
• To get the latest media news to your desktop or mobile, follow MediaGuardian on Twitter and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/mediaguardian