Google Loath to Remove Content Claimed to Be Defamatory

The Internet search giant Google periodically issues “Transparency Reports” which summarize government requests for removal of content from the Internet and Google’s response to the requests. Google also discloses statistics regarding requests received from copyright holders. The latest report, issued for the last six months of 2012, reveals that Google received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content during that time period – a significant increase from the first six months of 2012 during which it received 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content. By a large margin, the number one reason for a removal request is claimed defamation, followed by privacy and security reasons, trademark and copyright infringement, violence, impersonation, government criticism, bullying, national security, adult content, hate speech, religious offense, drug abuse, electoral law, geographical dispute, suicide promotion and “other.”

The large increase in removal requests is mostly due to clips of the movie “Innocence of Muslims” and Brazil’s most recent elections. Twenty countries asked Google to review YouTube videos containing clips of “Innocence of Muslims.” Seventeen of those countries asked Google to remove the videos. Although Google restricted the videos from view in some countries, it did not remove the content from others. Google received 316 requests for removal of information relating to alleged violations of Brazil’s electoral code. Although it removed some content in response to court decisions, it is appealing other cases on the ground of freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution. Also related to the elections, Google received requests from a prosecutor, an attorney and a judge to remove blog posts and search results that were allegedly defamatory. Google refused to remove this content.

The latest report shows that Google readily removes content that infringes a protected copyright or trademark, and that it complies with court orders to remove defamatory matter. However, Google is typically unwilling to remove allegedly defamatory material that has not been declared as such by a court of law. For example, Google scrub.jpgrefused to remove YouTube videos that allegedly defamed a school administrator, police officers, government officials and prosecutors, and it only age-restricted an allegedly defamatory video showing Argentina’s president in a compromising position. However, Google did remove items that a court had ruled defamatory to a man and his family, and in response to a court order, it removed a blog post that allegedly defamed a retired military officer accused of business gain through political ties.

Want Google to scrub defamatory material from the Internet? Get a court order.

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