Legal Arguments for Removal of Search Results
Google is a powerful search engine that often provides a wealth of information to users. However, in some cases, it may display search results that are damaging to individuals or businesses. While freedom of speech laws in the United States protect Google's right to display search results, there are certain legal arguments that can be made to compel the company to remove Google search results. This post will outline various legal arguments and their specific examples, as well as any mitigating circumstances and relevant exceptions.
Defamation is a statement that injures a third party's reputation. To succeed in a defamation claim, a plaintiff must prove that the statement is false, published to a third party, and caused harm to their reputation. If a search result contains defamatory content, a person can argue that Google should remove it. However, this argument is likely to be more successful if the content has already been deemed defamatory by a court.
Example: John Doe sues the publisher of an online article that falsely accuses him of a crime. The court finds the statement to be defamatory, and John can now request that Google remove the search result linking to the defamatory content.
Right to be Forgotten:
The "right to be forgotten" is a legal concept that allows individuals to request the removal of personal information that is outdated, inaccurate, or no longer relevant. This concept is more established in the European Union than in the United States, but it may still be a possible argument for removal.
Example: Jane Smith was involved in a minor scandal ten years ago. The incident is no longer relevant, but search results still display news articles about it. Jane could argue that she has a right to be forgotten and request Google to remove the search results.
To learn more about European "Right to be Forgotten" vs US Freedom of Speech see our post.
If a search result contains content that infringes on someone's copyright, they can request Google to remove it under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). To be successful, the copyright owner must show that they own the copyright and that the content in question infringes on their rights.
Example: A photographer finds a website using their copyrighted images without permission. The photographer can request Google to remove the search result linking to the infringing content by submitting a DMCA takedown notice.
Invasion of Privacy:
In some cases, search results may reveal private, personal information that could be considered an invasion of privacy. If a person can prove that the information disclosed is private and that its publication is highly offensive, they may have a case for removal.
Example: An individual discovers a search result linking to a website that shares their Social Security number and other sensitive information. The individual can argue that this is an invasion of privacy and request Google to remove the search result.
Mitigating Circumstances and Exceptions:
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA):
Section 230 of the CDA provides immunity to internet service providers, including Google, for content posted by third parties. This can make it challenging to hold Google responsible for removing search results that contain harmful content. However, Section 230 does not provide immunity for copyright infringement or violations of federal criminal law.
To learn more about Section 230 go to this Wikipedia article.
Google may refuse to remove a search result if it believes that the content in question serves a legitimate public interest. This can include matters of public concern, such as political discussions or reporting on criminal activity.
While freedom of speech laws protect Google in the United States, there are still legal arguments that can be made to compel the removal of damaging search results. These include defamation, the right to be forgotten, copyright infringement, and invasion of privacy. However, each argument's success depends on the specific circumstances of the case, and there may be mitigating factors or exceptions that could hinder the removal process. Factors such as Section 230 of the CDA and public interest can also impact the likelihood of successful removal. It is essential for individuals seeking to remove damaging search results to consult with a legal professional experienced in this area to evaluate the strength of their case and navigate the complex legal landscape.