SHARE
COPY LINK

LAWSUIT

Swedish man sues Google for defamation

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.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LAWSUIT

Sweden’s Spotify hit by new $200 million action

Swedish music streaming leader Spotify has been hit by a new copyright lawsuit seeking $200 million, in the second such case within weeks.

Sweden's Spotify hit by new $200 million action
The Swedish company has been accused of adopting "a now familiar strategy for many digital music services -- infringe now, apologize later." Photo: Erik Mårtensson / SCANPIX

The lawsuits, each filed by individual artists in a US federal court in Los Angeles, ask a judge to create a class-action suit in which other alleged victims can collectively seek damages.

The latest lawsuit was filed Friday by Melissa Ferrick, the Massachusetts-based indie folk singer who teaches at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and rose to prominence as Morrissey's last-minute opening act on his 1991 tour.

Ferrick accused Spotify, which boasts of providing a massive selection of on-demand music, of failing to inform copyright owners when it created phonorecords, the files used to provide the instant music online.

Ferrick charged that the Swedish company, not wanting to delay its growth including its US launch in 2011, took “a now familiar strategy for many digital music services — infringe now, apologize later.”

“Spotify chose expediency over licenses. Thus, while Spotify has profited handsomely from the music that its sells to its subscribers, the owners of that music (in particular, songwriters and their music publishers) have not been able to share in that success because Spotify is using their music for free,” the lawsuit said.

Ferrick said that her songs have been streamed or temporarily downloaded one million times in the past three years over Spotify but said the company did not license them as required.

Ferrick's lawsuit sought at least $200 million on behalf of copyright holders from Spotify, a private company which says it has more than 75 million users and has been valued at $8 billion.

Spotify was hit in late December by another lawsuit seeking a class-action suit filed by David Lowery, the leader of alternative rock bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven who is also an academic.

Lowery, whose lawsuit sought at least $150 million, also accused Spotify of failing to seek permission for copying or distributing songs.

His lawsuit had a slightly different argument, accusing Spotify of ignoring mechanical rights — the permission to reproduce copyrighted material.

In response to Lowery's lawsuit, Spotify said it was trying to compensate every rights holder but that data was often missing.

“We are committed to paying songwriters and publishers every penny,” Spotify spokesman Jonathan Prince said at the time.

Spotify says it has paid back $3 billion to music-makers, has set aside money for future payouts and is working to find technical solutions to avoid future problems.

Streaming, both on Spotify and competing services such as Apple Music and Tidal, has been rapidly growing and contributed to a net rise in music consumption in the United States last year.