Global Freedom of Expression

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Rodriguez v. Google Inc.

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    October 28, 2014
  • Outcome
    Acquittal
  • Case Number
    R. 522. XLIX.
  • Region & Country
    Argentina, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Defamation / Reputation, Indecency / Obscenity
  • Tags
    Censorship, Civil Defamation, Google, Internet, Internet Service Providers, Right to be forgotten, Search Engines, Websites

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There is a Spanish language version of this case available.    View Spanish version

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of Justice ruled that online search engine service providers can be negligently liable for contents that adversely affect one’s reputation or right to privacy. An Argentinian model brought a civil case against Google and Yahoo, seeking monetary damages for harms she suffered as a result of associating her name and images to websites having sexual and pornographic contents.  She also sought a permanent injunction to  block and remove all thumbnails using her images from the search results. On the basis of international human rights law, the court noted that search engine operators played a pivotal role in promoting the freedom of its users to seek and receive information online.  However, the Court stressed that search engines bore the responsibility for providing access to unauthorized or illegal content. According to the Court, search engine operators are strictly liable for providing access to materials that clearly pose danger or harm to the public, such as child pornography or contents that facilitate or incite crimes. They can further be negligently liable for contents that adversely affect one’s reputation or right to privacy.


Facts

An Argentinian model brought a civil case against Google and Yahoo, seeking monetary damages for harms she suffered as a result of associating her name and images to websites having sexual and pornographic contents.  She also sought a permanent injunction to  block and remove all thumbnails using her images from the search results.

Initially, The court of first instance awarded monetary damages in the amount of Arg$ 100,000 against Google, and Arg$20,000 against Yahoo, and ordered the companies to block and remove all search results associating her images with pornographic websites.

On appeal, the court of second instance partially overturned the decision.  It annuled the judgment against Yahoo and reduced the monetary damages to the total sum of Arg$ 50,000 against Google for its use of the images in the thumbnails without authorization.

Subsequently, both parties appealed the case to Argentina’s National Supreme Court of Justice.


Decision Overview

The Supreme Court of Justice first ruled that online communications are protected under relevant national laws of Argentina.  Pursuant to Article 14 of the Constitution, “All inhabitants of the nation enjoy [the right] in publishing their ideas through press without censorship.”  Article 32 prohibits the Federal Congress from enacting “laws that restrict the freedom of press or that substantial federal jurisdiction over it.”  Also, the Court referred to Article 1 of the Federal Law No. 26.032 that recognizes the right to convey ideas, facts, and opinions disseminated through internet.

The Court also made reference to international human rights law decisions recognizing the pivotal role of internet search engine service providers in promoting the freedom of its users to seek and receive information made available on internet.  However, the Court noted  that search engines bear the responsibility for providing access to unauthorized or illegal contents depending on the nature of published information.

According to Court, search engine companies are strictly liable for providing access to materials that clearly pose danger or harm to the public, such as child pornography or contents that facilitate or incite crimes.  In comparison, they are negligently liable for contents that adversely affect one’s reputation or right to privacy.  To recover, the affected individual must show that he or she properly informed the search engines but they failed to act with due diligence in blocking access or removing the contents.

Accordingly, the Court did not find Google and Yahoo strictly liable because the images at issue only adversely affected the plaintiff’s reputation, rather posing harm to the public, and that she could request the images to be removed.  The Court also overturned court of first instance’s judgment ordering Google to monitor specific illegal contents and filter them from its indexes.  It ruled that such order would amount to unjustified censorship.

 


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision extends the freedom of expression to online search engine service providers and limits their liability in cases in which they provide access to information that adversely affect one’s reputation or right to privacy.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Joint declaration on freedom of expression and the Internet, 2011
  • ACHR, art. 13

    Under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, “The exercise of the right to [freedom of expression] shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure: a. respect for the rights or reputations of others; or b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.”

  • UNHRC, The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet, A/HRC/20/L.13 (June 29, 2012)
  • Special Rapporteur, OAS, Freedom of Expression and the Internet, OEA/Ser.L/V/II. CIDH/RELE/INF. 11/13, 31 December, 2013

    The Special Rapporteur of Organization of American States on freedom of expression holds that Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights “fully to communications, ideas and information distributed through the Internet.”

  • UN, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, A/HRC/17/27 (May 16, 2011)
  • ECJ, Google Spain v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), C-131/12 (2014)

    The Court of Justice for the European Union held that internet search engine service providers equally enjoy the freedom “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

  • IACtHR, Herrera Ulloa v. Costa Rica, ser. C No. 107 (2004)
  • IACtHR, Ricardo Canese v. Paraguay, ser. C No. 111 (2004)
  • IACtHR, Apitz Barbera v. Venezuela, ser. C No. 182 (2008)
  • IACtHR, Ríos v. Venezuela, ser. C No. 194 (2009)
  • IACtHR, Perozo v. Venezuela, ser. C No. 195 (2009)

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Arg., Cod. Civ.,

    Articles 1109, 1113

  • Arg., Law No. 11723

    Article 31

  • Arg., Law No. 26032

    Article 1

  • Arg., Const. Nac. Article 19

    “The private actions of men that in no way offend public order or morality, nor injure a third party, are reserved only to God, and are exempt from the authority of the magistrates. No inhabitant of the Nation shall be compelled to do what the law does not order, or be deprived of what it does not forbid.”

  • Arg., Const. Nac. Article 14

    “All inhabitants of the Nation enjoy the following rights, in accordance with the laws that regulate their exercise, namely: of working in and practicing any lawful industry; of navigating and trading; of petitioning the authorities; of entering, remaining in, traveling through and leaving the Argentine territory; of publishing their ideas through the press without prior censorship; of using and disposing of their property; of associating for useful purposes; of freely practicing their religion; of teaching and learning.”

  • Arg., Const. Nac. Article 32

    “The Federal Congress shall not enact laws that restrict the freedom of the press or that establish federal jurisdiction over it.”

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Braz., Law No. 12.965

    Article 18, 19

  • Spain, Law No. 34 (2002)

    Article 17.1

  • It., Decree-Law 70 (04/09/2003)

    Article 17.3

  • U.K., Electronic communications. The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations (2002)

    Articles 17, 18

  • U.S., Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64 (1964)
  • Ger., Lüth, BVerfGE 7, 198 (1958)
  • U.K., Metropolitan International Schools Ltd. v. Google Inc., Court of Appeal-Queen' s Bench Division, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL16-07-2009
  • U.S., Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965)
  • U.S., Carroll v. President and Comm'rs of Princess Anne, 393 U.S. 175 (1968)
  • U.S., Org. for a Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U.S. 415 (1971)
  • U.S., Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad, 420 U.S. 546 (1976)

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution and thus its decisions establish binding judicial precedents.

Decision (including concurring or dissenting opinions) establishes influential or persuasive precedent outside its jurisdiction.

The decision is significant in the context of rights and liabilities of webpage publishers and search engine service providers.

Official Case Documents

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