An appeals court in Argentina has ruled that search engines are not responsible for the content of sites that they index. The court overturned a lower court's ruling against Google and Yahoo! Argentina.
A lower court had found the search firms liable for damaging the 'moral character' of Virginia Da Cunha, a model, singer and actress, by linking to pages that named her and used her image in a sexual context. Each company was ordered to pay 50,000 pesos (approximately £8,200) plus interest.
It was just one of more than 100 similar lawsuits that demanded search engines block links to pages relating to famous people, including football legend Diego Maradona, models, actors and public servants. According to a report by The New York Times, Da Cunha's case was the furthest along of those cases.
Argentine lawyer Martin Leguizamón Peña was behind 108 of the court applications that resulted in temporary orders being issued against the search companies in 2008. He told Argentina's News Magazine at the time that he was acting to protect his clients' image rights, privacy and honour.
When the 2008 ruling was issued, Yahoo! blocked all search results for the individuals, replacing them with a notice. An automatic translation of that notice says: "Because of a court order sought by private parties, we have been forced to temporarily remove some or all of the search results". Google said it was unable to comply with broad injunctions, according to The New York Times. Both firms had been ordered to pay damages to Da Cunha.
The National Chamber of Civil Appeals has now ruled that search engines become liable for the content of third parties only if they negligently fail to remove content upon being made aware of its illegality.
Google Legal Affairs Manager María Baudino wrote in a post that appeared on the company's Latin America blog last week, according to an automated translation: "The decision of the [appeals court] clarifies the role and responsibilities of internet intermediaries against the user-generated content. We believe that the adoption of criteria internationally accepted [for] limitation of liability is a breakthrough for the sake of legal certainty necessary for the internet industry to grow with the dynamism of recent years."
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