A high court judge in London has ruled that Google is not liable for defamatory comments that appear in news articles, blogs and forums displayed in its search results.
The case, against Google’s US and UK operations, had been brought by London-based Metropolitan International Schools after negative comments were left on a forum that started showing up in the Search Engine Results Pages.
MIS claimed these comments were defamatory and that Google was liable for publishing these.
Mr Justice Eady ruled in a judgment in the high court on Friday that Google was a “facilitator” and not a publisher of the content.
“When a snippet is thrown up on the user’s screen in response to his search, it points him in the direction of an entry somewhere on the web that corresponds, to a greater or lesser extent, to the search terms he has typed in,” Eady said. “It is for him to access or not, as he chooses. [Google] has merely, by the provision of its search service, played the role of a facilitator.”
However Eady commented that Google has a responsibility to block or take down content if it is notified with a legitimate complaint about libellous material.
Struan Robertson, a lawyer at Pinsent Masons, said that this was the first judicial analysis of search engine liability for defamation under UK law. “It is undoubtedly a brilliant result for Google and other search engines,” Robertson concluded.