Google avoids liability in NZ

Google avoids liability in NZ

It had to happen - Google getting sued here for search results linking to allegedly defamatory material - it's happened in most other jurisdictions (with mixed results).

In this case, A, a medical practitioner (whose name is suppressed,) alleged that material posted on websites and linked to by Google was defamatory and therefore Google, as a publisher, was liable. Google argued that it wasn't (and had another winningly ingenious argument that I'll get to a little later).

But. The answer? Google is not liable.

End of story?

Well, not really since the case was brought as a summary judgement application. Such applications are meant to be reserved for cases where there is really no defence or at least no disputed facts and therefore no need for cross examination, testing of complex conflicting facts or lengthy affidavit evidence.  This wasn't that case so it has little precedent effect in my view.

As you might have expected with something as complex as this, the Court effectively kicks for touch and holds that the summary judgement procedure is not appropriate for this type of case (although not without holding, completely gratuitously, that Google might be a publisher).

I say gratuitously, because not only did the Court find that this was far too complicated for summary judgement but it found, as an ingenious threshold ruling, that Google NZ Limited was not the right defendant anyway - it doesn't have the requisite degree of control over the search results, which are controlled by Google, Inc. in the US.  (Not sure why the plaintiff didn't add Google, Inc as a defendant on jurisdictional grounds a la Gutnick v Dow Jones and other similar cases).

It's a fairly limited decision.  It really does leave open what would happen if there was a fully argued case and both Google NZ and Google, Inc were co-defendants but no doubt Google Group will be quite happy that it has batted this one away without too much trouble. 

Image creative commmons licensed by Marcin Wichery

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