When Google is faced with a court order compelling the removal of a defamatory web page from its index, do you think Google should:
- Not remove the link at all, because doing so is sliding down a slippery anti-free-speech slope?
- Remove the link, but only from the national index of the country from which the court order originates? Or,
- Remove the link from every Google index worldwide?
This is the dilemma the Supreme Court of British Columbia had to consider in Niemela v. Malamas, 2015 BCSC 2014 (“Niemela”). The justices’ final decision: Choice B – only remove links from Google.ca, which means the pages can still be included and visible on google.com.
What Does This Ruling Mean For Canadians Who Want To Get Content Removed From Google?
What does this ruling mean in practical terms? Canadians who’ve successfully obtained an online defamation removal order in Canada may need to file another motion, in a U.S. court, to get the material removed from Google’s main index, Google.com. And even then, it may not be a sure thing since Canadian and U.S. defamation laws differ greatly.
Niemela v. Malamas: Online Defamation Case Summary
Negative Online Reviews Posted About Lawyer
In 2012, someone started posting negative online reviews about Vancouver attorney Glenn Niemela. Confident the posts were the work of a former “biker gang” client, Niemela informed the police of the situation but declined to take legal action. By 2014, though, he’d concluded that the reviews were hurting his business and filed a pair of lawsuits in an effort to get the content removed from the Web.
Lawyer Files Lawsuit Against Alleged Defamer and Google
Instead of just suing the suspected culprit, Niemela also filed a claim against Google over the “snippets” the search engine’s algorithm grabs to display in results.
In his legal pursuit of the actual defamer, Niemela succeeded. A Canadian court declared the statements on ripoffreport.com and reviewstalk.com defamatory. As a courtesy, the search engine offered to remove the offending pages from its Google.ca index, where 95% of search is done in Canada.
“Remove the links worldwide, Not just in Canada!”
But Niemela wanted more from Google. To secure his good name, he sought removal of the defamatory pages from Google’s worldwide index, especially Google.com. “[A]ny person’s honour, reputation and personal privacy ought [not] to be marginalized or compartmentalized to solely one jurisdiction, being Canada, by solely blocking the offending URLs from google.ca,” Niemela rationalized in his lawsuit.
Court Ruling: Only Remove From Canada’s Search Index
The British Columbian court, however, didn’t think Niemela’s argument satisfied the necessary legal tests. Specifically, the bench didn’t think Niemela demonstrated how his life or career would be irreparably harmed if the contested webpages weren’t de-indexed across all of Google’s properties.
The judges also disagreed with Niemela’s lawsuit against the search giant, in which he argued that search engine text snippets amounted to defamation. But the judges disagreed since Google’s algorithm is a “passive instrument” that does “not authorize the appearance of the snippets on the user’s screen ‘in any meaningful sense’.”
International Internet Law Attorneys
Kelly Warner’s online defamation lawyers frequently work with clients in Canada and enjoy professional relationships with attorneys in British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and Ontario. Solving cross-border Internet law cases is one of our strengths.