Germany: Google not held liable for link to website with allegedly defamatory content

On 5 September 2013 the District Court in Mönchengladbach rejected the claim brought by a history professor (plaintiff) against Google (defendant). The plaintiff’s claim for cease and desist targeted at the deletion of a link contained in Google’s search index which led to an allegedly defamatory blog entry.

The plaintiff argued that the author of the entry was untraceable and the website operator did not respond to his complaints.

The court however rejected the claim and reasoned that the plaintiff would have to address the author of the content or the operator of the website instead of Google. The plaintiff’s arguments would be “much too superficial”. Moreover, even if Google deleted the content the text would still be accessible through other search engines. Furthermore, the court reasoned that Google’s business model was to display mathematically determined results. A scan of all search results for defamatory content would be nearly impossible. In consequence, Google’s freedom of economic activity would be put at risk if the plaintiff succeeded with his claim.

Nonetheless, the court granted the appeal to the Higher Regional Court.

Google’s search engine as well as its autocomplete function have been repeatedly subject to court decisions in Germany. This new decision now further clarifies the search engine operator’s duties. In fact the court has protected Google’s business model and rejected an easy option to fight the access to unpleasant website content by simply obliging the search engine operator to delete the respective link. Further details on Google’s obligations and freedoms are to be expected in potential appeal procedures as well as in other cases currently pending inter alia before the ECJ.