Google Case ‘Another Shift In Defamation Landscape’

Ruling ‘Another Example Of The Importance Of Acting Quickly’

19.02.2013

By Rob Dixon

A landmark Court of Appeal ruling regarded as the first time that a major court has considered Google’s liability for defamatory statements posted on its platforms has highlighted how the law is continuing to develop around the online world, according to a legal expert.

The court last week upheld a previous judgement related to the case of Payam Tamiz, a former local council candidate who took legal action against Google Inc regarding comments written about him on the company’s Blogger site.

It was originally ruled that Google could not be held responsible for the comment as, in this case, it was the “unfortunate owner” of the site and could not be classed as a publisher. That decision was backed by the Court of Appeal, although the master of rolls Lord Justice Richards did state that the company should act quicker in removing libellous posts.

It was argued that there should be a point when the owner of a “noticeboard”, like a blogging platform, featuring defamatory statements should become liable for the continued publication of such material.

In this specific case, there was a gap of five weeks between the posting of the comments and Google’s subsequent approval.

Rebekah Finch, a legal specialist at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office with expertise in defamation, said the case was another example of how the law is continuing develop when it comes to comments posted on the internet.

She outlined: “This is just the latest of a number of cases which have shown how social media is continuing to transform the scope of defamation law, particularly due to the rapid way that messages can be spread and distributed across the web.

“As this ruling highlights, speed is the key factor when it comes to defamation cases. Quite simply, all parties need to act quickly for a variety of reasons.

“For example, a website host should act quickly once notified of defamatory content so as to avoid potential proceedings being brought against it, while a claimant must also act quickly so as to limit the level of damage caused.

“In addition, if court proceedings are necessary, a claimant must also be able to demonstrate to the court that they have acted quickly to minimise any potential damage.

“Finally, speed is also important when it comes to lodging a claim. The limitation period for issuing defamation claims is one year from the date of the publication and the Court will only allow a claim to be brought outside this one year period in very exceptional circumstances.”

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