The Court of Appeal of England and Wales decided on 14 February 2013
that Google could be considered liable for comments posted on its
Blogger platform unless it reacts promptly to a complaint.
Reversing a previous ruling in March 2012 of the High Court which
considered that Google, in its platform provider role, should not be
treated as a publisher, the Appeal Court ruled that the company could be
liable for the content published on its blogging platform if it allowed
content (in this case comments on a specific blog hosted at Blogger) to
remain after having received complaints that the respective content was
defamatory. The main argument of the court was that the Blogger platform
is available on Google’s terms which can remove or block access to any
notice that does not comply with those terms.
The ruling came as a result of a case brought to court by a former
Conservative party local council candidate who complained in July 2011
to Google about eight comments posted on the London Muslim blog, which
he considered as defamatory to him. Google passed on the complaints to
the blogger and the respective comments were taken down after about five
weeks, period which was considered too long by the court.
Although the Court considered that any damage resulting from the
publication was too trivial and dismissed the appeal, EDRi member
Article 19 believes the judgement is a serious step back for free speech
Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19, stated that “the
court’s judgement effectively endorses a problematic ‘notice and
takedown’ system, which encourages intermediaries like Google to remove
potentially defamatory material immediately upon notification despite
the fact that the material complained about may not be unlawful. This
creates a worrying chilling effect on freedom of expression, as
intermediaries might censor perfectly legitimate speech.”
The group is also concerned by the fact that the Appeal Court did not
make any reference to the freedom of expression, a right protected by
the UK Human Rights Act.
United Kingdom: Ruling on Google’s liability is bad news for free speech
Google must act quickly on libellous Blogger posts, says appeal court