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A High Court judge in New Zealand has left open the possibility of Google and other search engines being liable to be sued for defamation in respect of offending material found online.

The decison was the result of a claim by an Auckland doctor who sought to have material removed from Google. He claimed defamation by publishing the results on offending websites via hyperlinks.

One of the problems with the case, which was ultimately lost even though the judge left open the liability in defamation issue, was that he had sued Google New Zealand rather than Google Inc., in the US and who are the ultimate search engine owners.

The plaintiff had made many requests to remove the access via Google to the offending websites, which had blocked access to some specific web pages. However not all of them were removed and therein lay the basis for the seven causes of action taken against their New Zealand subsidiary.

The Judge rules that “it is reasonably arguable that a search engine is a publisher in respect of specific URLs and words that, given the lsack of clarity surrounding the subject of the plaintiff’s complaint, it is inappropriate to strike out that claim.”

The decision has created some high interest among media lawyers who see the possibility of suing someone like Google with their deep pockets as something highly valuable for plaintiffs.

The New Zealand case can be read here: LawFuel-Google-Lawsuit-Decision

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