Sunday, December 02, 2012

Google’s tutorial: how to lose a defamation case

How shall I put this? Bluntly, I think, is best.

It shits me to tears when the commentariat sees fit to drip venom on the result of a court case without reading the damn judgement. Even more tears, when it’s clearly a comment from someone who doesn’t understand the court case or even the legal system under which it was fought, but still sees fit to drip venom, etc.

And it shits me to tears when it’s clearly a knocked-off-in-a-hurry bit of cheap American clickbait with no reference to what happens in another country.

Enter ReadWriteWeb, with this brick-thick intervention into Google’s Australian defamation loss.

"Court rules - wrongly - that Google is a publisher". Even even the bloody headline is wrong. 

Google is a publisher, and proud of it when it wishes to be. When it decides to let journalists into the inner sanctums of Google Maps, it is insanely pleased with itself at its job of correcting maps that governments think are authoritative. In other words, if a Google Map is more accurate than the “real” map, it’s because Google collected “ground truth” data, reconciled the discrepancies between that and its own maps, and publishes its own maps.

It also relentlessly (if, anyhow, you happen to be a recipient of notices) publishes its own Official Google blog posts, and creates its own direct mail campaigns (had one in the letterbox this week). Any claim that Google isn’t a publisher is disingenuous. And because some people between the Pacific and Atlantic have trouble with words like that: really, Google is a publisher, whatever statements it makes to mislead idiots.

But it’s the complete and utter failure to actually read the judgement that makes me want to pick up a broadsword and kill a thousand men in a mead hall.

Here’s a few salient points about the case. From the judgement, which Jon Mitchell didn't bother with because of the long words.

  1. Google treated the original request – “remove defamatory material” – as too trivial to bother with. Its response was the equivalent of “here’s a phone, call someone who gives a shit”.
  2. Google treated the court as too trivial to bother with. It had the opportunity to call witnesses with knowledge of what happened, and didn’t.
  3. Google treated Australian defamation law as too trivial to bother with. It decided that its defence would rest on decisions made in England – which, in case it hasn’t noticed, is actually a different country. Its legal mind was about 25 years out of date, since we stopped sending appeals to the Privy Council in 1986. Australian courts can consider judgements in other jurisdictions – as they do, including those from America – but English decisions are no longer binding here. Idiots.
Now, instead of a frankly dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers off-toss by a remote twerp, here are the three facts which, it seems from reading the judgement, actually matter:

  1. Google was asked to amend the search results so as not to present a defamatory imputation.
  2. Google admitted in court that it could have done so.
  3. Yahoo had already lost a case on the same facts.
In other words, Google just couldn’t be arsed. Its decision was “don’t bother and don’t spend more on the fight than a settlement would cost”.

The judge frequently makes it clear that Google could have done better, and had it done so, the jury may have been free to find in favour of the search engine giant.

In other words, through the combination of arrogance and can’t-be-bothered, Google has supported a precedent that ReadWriteWeb detests. Take your complaint to Mountain View, fools, and stop giving us patronising piss-in-the-pocket advice from the other side of the Pacific.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more with RC's blog. I have a case before NSW Supreme Court for defamation and had asked Google to remove damaging falsehoods from it's searches, they refused to do so...bastards. When I win this case and I first proving it is libel I will launch action against them as well.