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Swedish man sues Google for defamation

Published: 29 Apr 2010 14:05 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Apr 2010 14:05 GMT+02:00

A small business owner is suing Google Sweden for defamation, alleging that Google has long presented search results to blogs that portray him as a paedophile. Additional Google links have identified his company as one that has engaged in shady transactions.

The 61-year-old man is seeking one million kronor ($137,200) in damages for the financial losses he has incurred from the negative publicity. Through the lawsuit, he hopes to examine whether Google in Sweden can republish information that may constitute criminal defamation under the Swedish Penal Code.

"Google hides behind the fact that it itself does not publish any material, but serves as a database that picks up what others have written," the man told Dagens Media.

The man admitted the chances of winning against Google are slim.

"I believe the odds are pretty bad. Google has so much money. It is so big. It cannot afford to lose such a trial," he told Dagens Media. "It would mean that Google would have to take responsibility for everything they publish."

The man hopes his lawsuit will lead to a debate about the search engine's responsibilities.

"This will cost me hundreds of thousands of kronor if I lose," he said. "However, I will still go through with it and I hope that it can start a debate."

The man has notified police about the person he believes is spreading the rumours. However, while the investigation is under way, the police cannot trace who is behind anonymous blogs.

"My business and I have suffered serious harm. Socially, this is the worst thing you can experience in Sweden, being called a paedophile," he said.

Several countries have won court cases against Google involving privacy and defamation. In a highly publicized court case in Italy, a judge sentenced three Google executives to suspended jail terms in February under Italy's privacy laws. The case involved a clip uploaded to Google Video showing an autistic boy being bullied. The video was deleted after the search engine became aware of it.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, Google was convicted in 2008 for defamation involving comments calling a priest a paedophile and a thief with a lover on Google social networking site Orkut. Google's appeal was denied earlier this week and the company was fined $8,500.

"Reading about the appeal in Italy was the first time I saw that one could go after Google," the man said. "This falls under Swedish law and I believe you cannot transmit information that is against Swedish law."

Journalist Andreas Ekström, who wrote the acclaimed book Google Code, does not believe a similar case has been tried in Sweden before. According to him, the crux of the case is determining whether Google actually publishes any information or serves as an an index to the information already available.

"Google is arguably only indexing," Ekström said in the Dagens Media report. "However, many read Google's search results without clicking through them. It may be reasonable to discuss Google's responsibility."

After the Dagens Media article was initially published on Wednesday, Google Nordic PR manager Andreas Svenungsson responded in an email, saying, "We have not been served anything and cannot comment on anything specific. Generally, it is important to remember that Google's search results are a reflection of what is found on the internet. To remove links in Google's indexing does not mean that it disappears from the internet. Occasionally, Google removes links to illegal content and those who wish to report such content can follow the steps here."

Related links:

TT/Vivian Tse (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:00 April 29, 2010 by teslar
Gee, if he wants to get rid of hundreds of thousands of kronor that badly, he might as well just send them to me (well - or give them to charity).

The Brazil ruling was insane - Google effectively got fined for "making space available on virtual networking sites, in which users can post any type of message without any checks beforehand". Any forum including the one here on TL could be sued with that logic.

The Italy ruling was equally stupid - they argued that Google needed the consent of all parties involved before making the video accessible. By that logic, you could effectively take down all of Youtube and most of Facebook. Mind you, this is the same country where the highest court ruled that women in jeans can't be raped (because nobody would be able to get the jeans off without their consent), so we got used to some level of insanity from them.

Still, what both cases have in common is that the offending material ORIGINATED in one of Google's services (Orkut and Google Video). Unfortunately for the guy in this article though, this is not true and the argument that Google (or any other search engine) is merely an index of what is already on the web is going to hold. Especially since Google actually does provide a service allowing you to report offending/illegal links. If Google had repeatedly ignored requests to remove the links, then, maybe, there would be a case but I don't think that is the case.

This is just an old man with an ill-informed grudge and this is a stupid way to trade a ton of money for 15 mins of fame.
16:03 April 29, 2010 by Rick Methven
"Journalist Andreas Ekström, who wrote the acclaimed book Google Code, does not believe a similar case has been tried in Sweden before. According to him, the crux of the case is determining whether Google actually publishes any information or serves as an an index to the information already available."

So if it is OK to provide an index to information already available, why are the Movie Moguls going after Pirate Bay for doing just that?

Answer: Google could buy and sell the whole of Hollywood out of loose change
18:06 April 29, 2010 by teslar
@Rick

Because Pirate Bay is also a tracker. So it's not "just" an index, it is a part of the technology necessary to access the files indexed in the torrents. That is why they are going after Pirate Bay and not, for instance, Google, which also indexes torrent (and makes it very easy to find them via the -filetype option) but does not function as a tracker.
01:08 April 30, 2010 by Davey-jo
Surely if you view the Google cache version of a link then you are viewing something published by Google. Google is therefore not a simple index but also a publisher.
13:27 April 30, 2010 by eZee.se
@Teslar,

The pirate bay is NOT a tracker, and umm.. does NOT run a tracker OR tracking software either. It used to, in the past - just 'case you missed it, does not do so now.

Now all TPB has is... a collection of magnet links.

The movie and music morons want to take it down because for half a decade its been waving the pirate flag and giving them and their hordes of lawyers the finger. The want to make an example of TPB, stop the humiliation and want to be seen as all powerful again in the public's eye - a force not to be reckoned with, a dominating force.

The truth is even if TPB hits the dust, i can name you 5 torrent sites off the top of my head that i use nearly everyday to get any and all media I want.

But do the music and film industries get that? nope.

There's a reason they are called dinosaurs.
13:42 April 30, 2010 by cbeynch
You didn't write this yourself Methven. Where did you copy/paste this from? Either that or your grammar has improved since yesterday.
10:22 May 4, 2010 by Britswedeguy
Maybe he should sue the electricity companies for powering PC that relay the information? And PC manufacturers?

Idiot.
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