Google wrongly accused in defamation claim, court told

Company is merely a search engine and not a publisher, defence in Albert Yeung suit argues

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 6:08am


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Businessman Albert Yeung Sau-shing wrongly picked Google, which is only a search engine and not a publisher, to sue for defamation, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.

Gerard McCoy SC, for Google, argued yesterday Hong Kong had no jurisdiction to hear the defamation claim because Google Inc was a foreign party with no publications in Hong Kong.

McCoy said Google was a search engine, which was different from websites, and therefore should be treated differently in regard to issues of responsibility or liability.

It was "absolutely impossible" for Google to be a "policeman" to "adjudicate the correctness, reliability or truthfulness" of the massive amounts of information that the search engine covered, McCoy said.

"A website manager has a decision-making capacity as to what is allowed on the website," he said.

"Google, on the other hand, is a completely neutral phenomenon; it does not exercise editorial control and cannot check the reliability and credibility of the information [on the websites].

"It is left to the users to sort it out what is true, or good, in whole or in part," he said.

Therefore, Yeung was creating an "artificial responsibility" for the search engine and the businessman had "wrongly chosen" to take action against Google.

"Google in law is not a publisher," he said. Instead, Yeung should take action against the websites or parties who published the information if he wanted to establish a case for defamation, McCoy said.

Yeung's lawyer, Lawrence Ng Kong-fat, disagreed, saying Google was the "operator and manager" of the websites containing the defamatory material.

The question of whether or not a search engine was a publisher was a new and complex issue in law, Ng said.

It would be inappropriate for the court to allow Google to strike out Yeung's claim and "shut out Yeung from pursuing his case", he said.

Ng also contested the argument that freedom of expression was involved.

The lawyer quoted the Bill of Rights Ordinance which stated freedom was not absolute but one with restrictions as to the "respect of the rights or reputations of others".

The hearing is scheduled to resume after mid-July, before Madame Justice Marlene Ng May-ling.