The Court of Appeal has reviewed the extent to which ISPs and internet platforms are liable as publishers of defamatory content.
Mr Tamiz sought to bring a libel claim against Google Inc in respect of alleged defamatory comments which were posted anonymously on a blog called “London Muslim”, hosted by Blogger (a service provided by Google). He was initially granted permission to serve the claim form on Google in California but the High Court set aside the order, and this case concerned the appeal of that decision.
The comments posted on London Muslim included allegations that Mr Tamiz was a drug dealer, had stolen from his employers and was hypocritical in his attitude towards women.
Mr Tamiz sent a formal letter of claim, which was forwarded to the blogger 5 weeks after Google received it. The comments were removed by the blogger within 3 days after that.
Court of Appeal decision
The main issues considered by the court were whether there was an arguable case that Google was a publisher of the comments and whether the potential liability was significant enough to continue the proceedings.
Mr Tamiz’s case related to the period after Google had been notified of his complaint. The Court of Appeal noted that it was impossible for Google to control comments published on Blogger before being notified of any complaint. However, it was relevant that in addition to providing a platform for the blogs, Google provided tools for the blogger to design the layout of his blog, and also allowed advertisements to be displayed on the blog. The fact that Google defined the scope of permitted content, and could easily remove or block access to offending material once it was notified were also factors pointing to an arguable case that Google facilitated publication of the blogs, and the comments posted on them.
However, the appeal was ultimately dismissed because the court considered that that it was highly unlikely that any significant number of readers would have accessed the comments and therefore the damage to Mr Tamiz’s reputation would have been trivial.
This is an important decision which clarifies that internet platforms may only have a defence up until the point they are notified of defamatory complaints. They must act “promptly” when receiving complaints.
This case marks a shift in the approach taken by the courts in determining the liability of ISPs and internet platforms. In a recent case in Australia, the court held that Google was a publisher after it failed to remove allegedly defamatory content, and Google was ordered to pay $200,000. The host of the site in question, Yahoo, was also ordered to pay the claimant $225,000.