UK court clears Google in defamation case

London, England – The UK High Court has decided to let search engine Google off the hook in a defamation case, reinforcing the principle that search engines aren’t responsible for content published on third party websites.

Metropolitan International Schools, a distance learning company, had sued  Google UK and its US HQ for defamation.

The school had argued that a posting on Digital Trends forums calling one of its classes a “scam” was defamatory.  Google, the school claimed, was liable too since a snippet from the forum appeared in its search results. Google was named, along with two other defendants in the case.

However High Court judge David Eady, said that Google was merely a conduit to the information, not a publisher in its own right.

“Snippets when thrown up on the user’s screen in response to his search, it points him in the direction of an entry somewhere on the Web that corresponds, to a greater or lesser extent, to the search terms he has typed in,” the Judge wrote.

He ruled that Google had no role to play in formulating the search terms and it had not authorized or caused the snippet to appear on the user’s screen in any meaningful sense.

Judge Eady said that if a person built up a card index of books in a library they could not be considered liable if the books in that library had defamatory material in them.

Google issued a statement after the ruling, saying:

“We are pleased with this result, which reinforces the principle that search engines aren’t responsible for content that is published on third party websites. Mr Justice Eady made clear that if someone feels they have been defamed by material on a Web site then they should address their complaint to the person who actually wrote and published the material, and not a search engine, which simply provides a searchable index of content on the Internet.”