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High Court: Google Not Responsible For Libels In Its Index

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) UK can’t be held responsible for defamations on overseas pages it indexes, according to a High Court ruling, Out-Law reports.

London-based distance learning provider Metropolitan International Schools Ltd (MIS) sued it for excerpting disparaging comments made about it on a Digital Trends, a US web forum. Some of 146 comments posted over 15 pages there said the company was a “scam” – claims that appeared in Google search results for the company’s name.

MIS is also suing Digital Trends as well as Google UK, claiming both had defamed it. But the search site successfully argued “its employees do not have access to any of the technology used to operate and control google.com and google.co.uk, which are owned and operated by (Google Inc)”.

But Mr Justice Eady wasn’t ruling on whether Google UK could be considered publisher of any defamatory statement, but whether MIS should take the take in the UK or US. The High Court had previously permitted MIS to apply to sue Google Inc in the US, but, in this latest ruling, Mr Justice Eady himself did say Google was not the publisher of the statements and, therefore, MIS had “no reasonable chance of success” in suing Google across the Atlantic.

On that basis, the case appears to reinforce two famous British rulings on responsibility in online defamation – Godfrey v Demon Internet (2001) and Bunt v Tilley (2007). Eady: “(Google) has not authorised or caused the snippet to appear on the user’s screen in any meaningful sense. It has merely, by the provision of its search service, played the role of a facilitator.”