The Independent are reporting Brian Retkin, owner of domain name registrar, dotWORLDS.net, is suing Google for defamation for failing to remove libellous allegations posted anonymously about him on an internet discussion forum.
According to the postings Retkin is accused of cashing in on the 11 September attacks on America by offering the free registration of domain names to the US in a way that took advantage of the fervent patriotism at the time. In other anonymous postings, he is wrongly and groundlessly accused of conducting fraudulent business.
“By allowing defamation, libel and character assassination to be posted on their Search Engine by the unverified, the alias and the anonymous, Google undermines and threatens individuals and corporations alike” says Retkin “dotWORLDS feel that these libellous postings would probably never have been seen but for the Search Engine, as they believe that the attacks on them are all but indistinguishable from so many other unsubstantiated and obscure grudge web pages on the net. “Rather” say dotWORLDS “it is Google’s web-crawl system that allows for just about anything, no matter how inaccurate, spurious, nonsensical or even illegal to be gathered unscreened, recorded, indexed and ranked, later to be disseminated at Google’s inclination to millions Internet users across the world.”
Retkin and his lawyers say they when the comment have as appeared on internet discussion forums they have asked them to remove them, but they keeps popping up again at other internet addresses, and it is Google’s job to stop people from still finding the comments .
According to the report Google claims it has “blacklisted” the offending links and removed the material complained of by Mr Retkin, and unsurprisingly rejects the idea that it should be responsible for the contents of links produced in an internet search.
As Retkin has decided to go after Google in the UK the main legal issue will likely revolve around section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 which deals with the defence of innocent dissemination. For the defence to succeed under section 1, the defendant needs to establish that (a) he was not the author, editor or publisher of the statement complained of; (b) he took reasonable care in relation to its publication; and (c) he did not know, and had no reason to believe, that what he did caused or contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement.
In Godfrey v Demon, the key online defamation case under UK law, the court was in little doubt that an Internet Service Provider would qualify as a “publisher” under Section 1(2) of the Defamation Act, but would a search engine?
My – admittedly poor – understanding to the Defamation Act seems at worse to mean that Google would have to remove/block access under a sort of notice and takedown procedure. If so, one might presume that Retkin would have to notify Google of each case of reposting and would only have cause of action if Google failed to take action in each invidual case?
Retkin first threatened Google with legal action in 2005. One to watch if it gets to court.