Can you sue a search engine? That’s the question on everyone’s mind ever since Delhi-based business bigwig and filmmaker Arindam Chaudhuri filed a lawsuit of Rs 50 crore against Google and three other publications. According to Chaudhuri, Google has been “publishing, distributing… the defamatory libelous and slanderous articles.” It’s not just him, in May, UK footballer Ryan Giggs sued Twitter to stop reports of his alleged affair from appearing in public.
The incident has sparked off an online debate, with some calling the move “ignorant” or “downright silly”. Even cyber lawyers are not clear where the accountability of a search engine lies. “A search engine is not entirely to be blamed and it is difficult for them to monitor their content because of their huge date base,” says Karnika Seth, Delhi-based cyber law expert. “You can technically sue the website, but it’s very silly to do so, because it’s just a content aggregator and not the publisher,” says Rodney Ryder, cyber crime lawyer.
The debate continues in Bollywood among actors who often encounter malicious gossip, morphed pictures and videos of themselves on the search engine. Actor Gul Panag points out that a search engine cannot be held accountable for the content out there. “A search engine is an information open source. It shows up what exists. It doesn’t create offensive or flattering material. It only collates it,” she says.
Some actors demand accountability from the website. “If I type my name, there are all sort of search names and tags that come up. Google should probably become like imdb and verify all our details through us,” says actor Koena Mitra. Actor Eesha Koppikhar says, “Google should have a censor mechanism that scrutinises content before it is put up.”
However, Google maintains that they cannot be held responsible. “Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. We are disappointed that search engines that use computer algorithms to create automated indexes of the world wide web are sought to be held liable for content that is indexed as search results,” says a Google spokesperson.