The dispute in question began after Advocate Ami Savir represented the Israeli Bar Association in disciplinary proceedings against an attorney. The Bar’s disciplinary board convicted the attorney in multiple affairs of misconduct. The board’s decision was published on the website court.org.il. At some point, Advocate Savir’s name began to appear in Google’s search results, under the title “is an attorney convicted in five different affairs”. Google’s search result linked to the disciplinary decision published on court.org.il, and Advocate Savir alleged that Google’s search results give the impression that Advocate Savir is the attorney convicted in those affairs.
After the operator of court.org.il declined Advocate Savir’s request to remove the defaming content, Advocate Savir filed suit with the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court, against the website’s operator and Google. The Magistrate Court delivered its decision last year, holding that the website’s operator is liable for defamation, but that “Google, as a search engine, should not be held liable for publication of content from an article published by a third party publisher-website.”
The District Court’s recent decision on appeal reversed the Magistrate Court’s holding. The District Court held that once Google had understood that the website operator “does not act to right the wrong, [Google] should have complied with the request to remove the information, as quickly as possible. Having failed to do so, [Google] cannot be granted immunity or defended from liability, just as others aren’t.” The District Court opined that the duty to remove defaming content is imposed on search engines in extraordinary circumstances like those in the present case of Advocate Savir, in which the “Notice and Takedown” process that has been widely adopted by courts in Israel, applies.
The District Court also held that Google and the website’s operator will jointly cover the 80,000 NIS (approximately US $21,000) in damages and 10,000 NIS (approximately US $2,600) in attorney fees awarded to Advocate Savir by the Magistrate Court. Advocate Savir expressed his satisfaction from the District Court’s judgment, and explained that “the judgment is of great practical importance, because Google’s automated search engine frequently derives titles and excerpts from websites in order to present a concise headline, which turns out to be misleading and disparaging, and this judgment provides a solution by imposing liability on Google. It is unfortunate that to date, even after the judgment was delivered, Google has yet to remove and block the headline that defames me, even though it is abundantly clear to Google that the content presented constitutes defamation.”