Google to appeal in libel case

Paris court rules that Google has legal responsibility for the suggested terms that appear when searching

26 September 2010

GOOGLE has said it will appeal against a French libel ruling that makes it legally responsible for the suggested terms that appear when searching online.

A convicted sex offender sued the search giant for libel after he found that a search for his name was accompanied by words including “rapist”, “Satanist”, “convicted” and “prison”.

Google guesses what users are looking for, as they type. It displays up to 10 suggested terms, based on the key words that other users have searched for.

The man, who is appealing against a three-month suspended sentence for corruption of a minor, sued for libel because he believed the search results were harmful to his reputation and would harm his future job prospects.

He said he had tried to contact Google to have the search terms blocked, to no avail.

A Paris court ordered Google and its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, to pay a token €1 in damages and €5,000 for the claimant’s legal fees.

The search engine has also been ordered to block the results at the centre of the complaint and will be fined €500 a day if it fails to comply.

Google says it will appeal because the suggested terms are based on an algorithm and generated automatically. If a term comes top in the suggested results, it is because other web users are searching for it.

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