Judge rules that Google has immunity from libel action

Internet giant Google cannot be regarded as the publisher of material posted on its Blogger.com website, a High Court judge has held.

The decision came from Mr Justice Eady as he agreed to set aside a High Court Master's decision to allow one-time Conservative council election candidate Payam Tamiz to serve defamation proceedings on Google Inc outside the jurisdiction.

Tamiz sought to sue Google Inc, which is registered in Delaware, in the United States, and operates from California, over a series of postings he said were false and defamatory which appeared on the London Muslim blog hosted by Google's Blogger.com website.

He also sought to sue Google UK Ltd, which only performs sales support and marketing business within the English jurisdiction.

Google applied to set aside the permission granted by Master Peter Eyre to serve the claim form out of the jurisdiction and to hold that there was no jurisdiction to try the claim or, if there was, that it should not be exercised.

Google argued that it was not the publisher of the material in question but merely a neutral service provider and had no control over the content of blogs on Blogger.com.

It had no way of knowing whether material posted was true or not, and said it could not reasonably be expected to determine the truth or falsity of comments and allegations made by bloggers.

The court heard that Tamiz had complained to Google about the postings. The internet giant refused to remove the material, but did draw his complaint to the attention of the blogger, who subsequently removed it a couple of weeks later.

The judge said Evans had argued that anyone accessing the material of which Tamiz complained would realise that it was "typical of the mindless rubbish to be found all over the internet", and that no weight should be attached to it.

But some comments were clearly defamatory, the judge said, adding: "The fact that some contributors to a thread are talking nonsense does not in itself mean that all the others should similarly be thrown out."

On the issue of whether Google was a publisher, Mr Justice Eady said: "It is no doubt often true that the owner of a wall which has been festooned, overnight, with defamatory graffiti could acquire scaffolding and have it all deleted with whitewash.

"That is not necessarily to say, however, that the unfortunate owner must, unless and until this has been accomplished, be classified as a publisher.

"It seems to me to be a significant factor in the evidence before me that Google Inc is not required to take any positive step, technically, in the process of continuing the accessibility of the offending material, whether it has been notified of a complainant's objection or not.

"In those circumstances, I would be prepared to hold that it should not be regarded as a publisher, or even as one who authorises publication, under the established principles of the common law. As I understand the evidence its role, as a platform provider, is a purely passive one."

Section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996, would also give Google Inc a defence, if there were any need for it to rely on it, the judge said.

Mr Justice Eady set aside the Master's order for service out of the jurisdiction and declined jurisdiction in the defamation proceedings.

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

 

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