Researcher Headed To Australian Supreme Court In Attempt To Hold Google Responsible For Posts At Ripoff Reports

If you want to know how misguided this lawsuit it, just read the subheadline:

IN a South Australian-first, internet giant Google is being sued by an Adelaide academic who claims she has been defamed by a US-based website it links to.

Do you see the problem here? Health researcher Janice Duffy is obviously intelligent, but she’s been trying to hold Google responsible for Ripoff Report’s actions for nearly six years now, draining what’s left of her savings and leaving her to crowdfund her self-represented last stand against Google in the South Australian Supreme Court.

What she claims has happened as a result of the allegedly defamatory posts at Ripoff Reports is genuinely awful.

Dr Duffy said she had been unemployed since she was forced to leave her SA Health position in 2010 after her colleagues learnt of the false claims about her on the website, and she believed she had not been able to find work since because of it.

She said that she had since suffered intense depression and often contemplated suicide because of the situation, but was determined to have Google remove the links and seek compensation through the court action.

But her assertions take a turn for the quixotic when she mentions other options considered and discarded.

Dr Duffy said the website [Ripoff Report] charges people up to $10,000 per page to remove offending material, but she could not afford this as she had spent all of her savings and superannuation fighting Google in court.

I would never encourage someone to cave to borderline extortionate demands — and Ripoff Reports is far from the paragon of online virtue — but if she had the money at her disposal and spent it all targeting the company that returns search results, rather than the company hosting the material or, better yet, the person who wrote the posts, it’s tough to be wholly sympathetic.

But she’s going to keep fighting, sunk cost fallacy be damned. What little she does have going for her in this quest to make Google pay for its refusal to delist allegedly defamatory content without a court order is her native country’s rather dubious court decisions and the lack of Section 230-esque protections, which brings the prospect of winning within the realm of imagination.

On her personal blog, she posits this rhetorical question:

I still cannot figure out why Google would pay three law firms, two barristers and a QC literally hundreds of thousands of dollars rather then just remove the links to the defamtory content. That is all I wanted, for them to be removed. And yet, here I am almost 6 years and a couple of dozen removal notifications later facing a trial.

The answer, of course, is that this case — while deeply personal to Dr. Duffy — isn’t just about her. Ceding this ground would allow others less suitably injured to use Google as their own personal reputation management firm. It would allow copyright holders to provide even flimsier justifications for link delisting. And it would open Google up to several similar lawsuits from parties who find it easier to target Google for alleged slights, rather than the authors of defamatory posts. This is why Google’s fighting so hard and this is why it really shouldn’t be fighting this battle at all.

In its defence, Google claims its activities do not render it “a publisher at all, or in the alternative, the publisher of the matters complained of’’.

The legitimate target(s) of a defamation suit include:

1. The person who uttered the defamatory statements.

All else is simply pray-and-spray litigation. Different laws in different countries will raise or lower the effectiveness of this praying/spraying, and certain countries are willing to overlook logic simply to bash large American companies, but in terms of legitimate lawsuits, the only party that should be listed as a defendant is the defamer. There are discovery routes towards discovering the true identities of anonymous/pseudonymous parties. And yes, this option will increase expenditures. But targeting the biggest, most publicly available names — no matter how distantly “involved” — isn’t exactly a money saver either, as Janice Duffy has discovered.

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