UK politician tries to sue Google

UK politician tries to sue Google – intermediary liability at the European Court of Human Rights

In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the claim made, in Tamiz v. UK, by a British politician that his right to reputation had been violated because he was refused permission to sue Google Inc. for allegedly defamatory remarks on the Blogger.com platform. Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) co-ordinated a coalition of eight interveners in the case, which urged the European Court of Human Rights to strengthen its protection of intermediaries following its recent judgments in Delfi v. Estonia and MTE and Index.hu v. Hungary.

This was a crucial decision from the European Court. Not only did it support the position that internet service providers should not be obliged to monitor content or proactively investigate potential defamatory activity on their sites. It also recognised that legal safeguards against individuals bringing trivial or non-substantial defamation claims can be a vital measure for protecting freedom of expression online.

The case was brought by Payam Tamiz, a former local politician from the United Kingdom. Mr Tamiz originally brought a case before the English courts claiming that a number of third-party comments posted by anonymous users on Google’s Blogger.com platform were defamatory. Ultimately, the courts dismissed Mr Tamiz’s claim on the basis that the resulting damage to his reputation would have been trivial, and therefore not capable of justifying the maintenance of proceedings against Google in England.

In his application to the European Court, Mr Tamiz claimed that his right to respect for his private life had been violated because the English courts refused to grant him a remedy against an intermediary, namely Google.

In its decision, the European Court found no violation of Mr Tamiz’s right to respect for his private life because the English courts had appropriately balanced his right to reputation against the right to freedom of expression. In doing so, the European Court highlighted “the important role that [internet service providers] such as Google Inc. perform in facilitating access to information and debate on a wide range of political, social and cultural topics.”

The coalition’s written comments, which can be read here, urged the European Court to strengthen the protections afforded to intermediaries under Article 10 ECHR and outlined the approaches to intermediary liability adopted in the USABrazilIndia and Argentina. All of which offer greater protection to intermediaries than the European Court’s jurisprudence.

The coalition of interveners also included Media Law Resource Centre; Association of American Publishers; Dutch Association of Journalists; European Publishers Council; Greenpeace International; Lorna Woods; NRC Media; Persgroep Nederland; and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

The coalition emphasised that intermediaries are not best placed to arbitrate on the lawfulness of user comments, and that they should not be expected to remove content following extra-judicial notices. The written comments also address the important guarantee offered by laws that permit the striking out or stay of frivolous or trivial claims in defamation.

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