Man wins defamation case against Google over search results

googleA Pairs court has ruled in favor of a French man who sued the world’s largest online search engine, Google, for defamation.

The man got a suspended sentence for alleged crimes relating to the corruption of a minor.

Given extensive press coverage of the alleged crime at the time, querying the man’s name on the popular search engine returns web pages from news publications that suggested he was a “rapist”, among other non-favorable descriptions.

The man argues that the statements in the online articles still available today adversely characterize him, which puts him in a disadvantageous social position when meeting new people and applying for jobs, among other situations and opportunities.

The man previously contacted Google directly to remove the defamatory articles from its search index, but the company did not do so arguing its proprietary algorithms simply return web pages in its index related to the keywords searched, that is, there is no direct human manipulation of top search results.

Google argues content creators, like publications, could opt not to have Google index selected web pages, in turn, they would not be returned in search results.

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In this specific case, the publications probably do not have much of an incentive to block the articles from Google spiders, simply because they were reporting on happenings with information available at the time given the circumstances.

The French court sided with the plaintiff, agreeing that those representations were defamatory, and ruled Google could have mitigated costs to the plaintiff by removing the pages.

The ruling ordered Google to pay €100,000, and to reimburse €5,000 in litigation costs incurred by the plaintiff. The ruling also ordered the company to disassociate the man’s name from the defamatory characterizations in Google Suggest, which suggests popular phrases while a person enters search terms in the Google search-box prior to completing a search. Additionally, for every single day the defamatory information remains in the company’s search results, Google would be fined an additional €5,000.

Most interestingly, the French court specifically found Google chief executive Eric Schmidt liable for defamation because the court argues he has the power of making mitigating changes to the results.

Google says it would appeal the ruling since it does not have a direct responsibility for generated search results.

The additional €5,000 daily fine applies during the appeals process.

This is the first time Google has been found liable on such grounds in a court of law.

Similar claims in North America have not been successful in the past.


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Hercules holds a B.Comm Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) level 3 candidate. He was previously a contributor at FiLife, a finance website owned by Dow Jones and IAC. Write to hercules@business2press.com
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