Google Finds Defence in Defamation Claim but may be Left Searching in Future

The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of Google in a claim brought by Mr Tamiz that he had been defamed on a blog hosted by Google.  However, in making this judgement, the Court of Appeal has left the possibility for claims to be brought where ISPs may be liable.

Mr Tamiz alleged that libelous comments had been made about him on a blog and that by hosting the blog, Google was liable for defamation.  It was found that the comments were arguably defamatory but on common law principles, Google was not the publisher of the words complained of.  By virtue of the fact that there was such a short time between Google having been notified of the comment and removal of it that liability could not have arisen.  Google was a facilitator of the blogs and its involvement was not such as to make it a primary publisher but could be through involvement of its employees or agents in the publication.

The relevant question is whether it can be said that in the period after notification of the complaint, Google did not know, and had no reason to believe, that what it did, caused or contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement.  It was held that Google arguably became publisher of the defamatory comments as it knew or had reason to believe that what it did, caused or contributed to the continued publication of the comments but that it was not liable to damages due to the short length of time that it took to remove the comment.

Used in isolation, the defence under s1 of the Defamation Act 1996 – in that it took reasonable care in passing the complaint on to the blogger after it had been notified of it – would not have been sufficient if Google had been found to be the publisher.  ISPs will have to ensure not only that they have strict moderation policies in place but also that rapid action is taken when they receive notification of potentially defamatory comments on blogs that they facilitate.

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