Will search engines remove “bad” content?
won a libel action against a man who showed “actual malice” in
publishing damaging statements that hurt Ms. Cornwell’s good name.
Armed with a court order to have the libel removed, the next
question is all about enforcement of US court orders in a worldwide
Many of the
search engines have mottos like “do no evil”, and they fully
cooperate with law enforcement, including valid court orders. But
the more pressing issue is how search engines will respond to the
varying laws of over 190 countries?
Since the bad guy
has fled the country, can Cornwell get the search engines to
obfuscate the proven libel against her? The perp, a Harvard man,
has allegedly fled the USA to escape his punishment for libeling
grew up in Chicago, and graduated from Harvard in 1975. He did
not attend a hearing on Cornwell's motion last month and was not
represented by counsel.
listed his last US residence as Woodbridge, Virginia, but he has
called himself a "political refugee" who moved to Europe in 2004
to escape Cornwell's legal actions.”
Many courts have
found that hyperlinking to a libel is repeating a libel, and search
engines, by virtue of their ability to store and publicize content,
should be subject to the laws of the countries where they are seen.
The act of “bombing” (someone publishes a defamatory statement while
conspirators hyperlink to it to make it come-up on web searches), is
exactly the same repeating a traditional libel, where simply
pointing to a page contributes to the defamation. This is
established case law dating back over 100 years:
Hird v Wood
- This case held that evidence
that a person sat by a defamatory placard beside a roadway, and
pointed to it whenever others passed, was sufficient to
constitute publication of defamatory material on the placard.
Cornwell plans to
ask the search engines to stop repeating the libel against her:
“It is not
clear how the judge's order can be enforced abroad or on the
lawyers intend to take the judge's order to internet service
providers and search engines, and ask them to put up a link, so
searches that turn up Sachs's allegations will lead to the court
order that found them to be false.”
Bloggers are now
being considered journalists and they now have the same
fact-checking requirements as any other publisher, so ignorance of
the law is not an excuse. We see this reflected in mainstream
blogger Insurance now required for any responsible publisher.
See this 2003 Cyberlibel case where
"an intermediate California Appellate
court holds that the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") does not
immunize a user of interactive computer services from a defamation
claim arising out of her republication of statements authored by a
third party, when the user knew or had reason to know of the falsity
of those statements."
The Internet is
not above the law, and all search engines are required to cooperate
with lawful court orders and respect copyright, libel and defamation
laws. It will be interesting to see if Patricia Cornwell will get
the search engines to remove the libelous content.