(CN) – Google and other foreign companies can be held liable for libelous content that appears on German websites, the country’s highest criminal court ruled Tuesday.
The controversy in question involves an unnamed German man who sued Google over an entry on its blogging service, Blogspot. The blog, which generally described life on the Spanish island of Mallorca, contained an entry that claimed the plaintiff had used a business credit card to pay for bills at a sex club.
But since Blogspot’s anonymity prevents suit against the individual blogger, the plaintiff says Google is liable for the content.
Affirming two lower court decisions, the Karlsruhe-based court held that German law applies despite Google’s American roots. The court went on to clarify the procedure under which such libel suits can proceed.
A person complaining of libelous content must first contact the person responsible for the blog entry by commenting on the blog. o prevent potential legal action, the author must then respond within a reasonable time with evidence supporting their statement.
Deutsche Welle, a German news outlet, reported a statement from Google’s general counsel said. “The court has confirmed that neutral services like Google are not obligated to pre-check the legality of content stored with a hosting service,” Google said, according to a translation of the article. “There is also not an obligation on the part of Google to be ‘on call’ for people who feel their rights have been infringed upon to remove statements of fact. In this regard, Google was concerned that such an obligation would be dangerous to freedom of expression and information on the Internet.”
The Hamburg court must determine Google’s liability for the statements on remand.