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September 30, 2014
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‘Search engines not responsible for content’

Singer Virginia da Cunha filed a lawsuit against Yahoo and Google because putting her name in their search engines leads to web pages with sexual content.
Deputy attorney general tells Supreme Court to dismiss case against Yahoo!, Google

Search engines are not responsible for the content of the sites they index, prosecutor Laura Monti, a deputy attorney general, said yesterday when analyzing the case filed by singer Virginia da Cunha, who had filed a lawsuit against search giants Yahoo and Google because searching for her name in their respective websites revealed webpages with sexual content.

The case reached the Supreme Court instance after the National Appeals Court partially confirmed a first instance ruling that had dismissed the request to condemn Yahoo and Google for alleged “moral damage” to the singer and actress.

In 2009, civil Judge Virginia Simari ordered both companies to pay 50,000 pesos to the former member of Bandana pop group. The appeals court ordered to revoke that compensation and ordered to eliminate the links to the websites suggested by Da Cunha but judges did not agree to suppress all the links including her photograph or name.

The appeals court decision did not satisfy the singer, who appealed it and filed a request for the highest tribunal to decide. Prosecutor Monti said that the justices should not accept the case and that the appeals court ruling should be confirmed.

‘Freedom of expression’

As the prosecutor explained in her opinion delivered before the Supreme Court, in the lawsuit, there is a controversy between the rights to honour, image and privacy invoked by Da Cunha and the freedom of expression cited by the Internet companies.

Monti considered that the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence must be applied to the case. In the so-called Campillay case, the country’s highest tribunal said that media are not responsible for spreading fake or mistaken news when the source of information is clearly identified.

According to Monti, that is what search engines do: they just reproduce in their results the information from websites created by other people and they expressly mention their source of information.

The prosecutor also said that users can benefit from this situation because if they had to file a complaint, they would know who to address it to: “to those from who news come and not to those who behave as their channel of dissemination.”

“The operation of search engines adjust to this doctrine and cannot entail any responsibility because they only give details of the information available in the network, specifying their source of information,” she added.

Da Cunha had considered that the ruling was arbitrary because it did not blame Yahoo and Google for the lack of control of the content provided by somebody else, which was dismissed by Prosecutor Monti.

The prosecutor also considered that search engines are a useful tool to organize the amount of information available in the net in order to have access to it because without them the possibility of surfing the web would be “restricted.”

“Far from contributing to preserve the nature of public communication through the Web and to promote the social dimension of the freedom of expression, regarded by the Inter-American Court of human rights, the claimant’s ambition would turn into an inhibitory effect or self-censorship,” Monti said.

Finally Monti concluded that the National Appeals Court’s ruling could not be considered “arbitrary” and she considered that Da Cunha appealed it because she did not share the judge’s decision and filed an extraordinary petition to the Supreme Court review. Currently, the members of the highest tribunal are examining the Media Law case, concerning freedom of expression and the right to information.

In 2011, the Association for Civil Rights (ADC) filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) request before the Supreme Court to deliver its opinion on this case. According to what Monti said yesterday, the organization considered that search engines are included within the international standards of freedom of expression.

The association also argued that search engines are necessary intermediaries between users and those who provide information and are also under the government and private entities’ supervision because they want to control content.

Herald staff

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