Google held not to be a publisher

Search engine not liable for defamatory search results, rules Eady J

The High Court ruled last week that Google was not a publisher at common law in respect of defamatory statements appearing as part of the information snippets published in its search engine results.

In only the third case in a decade in which the liability of internet intermediaries has been considered, Mr Justice Eady determined that Google was a different type of internet intermediary from a webhost or website. As an automated process, Google should not be held responsible for publishing any defamatory statement as part of its search results and was not a publisher at common law. Nor was Google a publisher when it had been put on notice, the Judge ruled.

The claimant, Metropolitan International Schools Ltd, a company specialising in distance learning courses, brought proceedings against Google for ‘publishing’ within the information snippets in search results a defamatory statement labeling one of their products a ‘scam’. A claim was also brought against the originator of the statement and judgment entered.

The Claimant contended that Google was a commercial internet publisher liable for defamatory statements produced in search results from the point that it was properly notified of a complaint. In this case, Google had started to block some of the search results sued upon after proceedings had been issued.

For the case report and a pdf of the judgment, please click here.

5RB‘s Desmond Browne QC and David Hirst (instructed by Eversheds) acted for Metropolitan International Schools Ltd.