Google, Yahoo win Argentine celebrity search case

Two companies are found not liable for allegedly defaming an Argentine entertainer by allowing pornographic sites with her image to be included in search results.

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
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Yahoo Argentina search results for Virginia Da Cunha show only news stories with a notice that the results have been filtered.
Yahoo Argentina search results for Virginia Da Cunha show only news stories with a notice that the results have been filtered. Yahoo Argentina

Google and Yahoo have been cleared in the case of an Argentine performer who alleged that she was defamed by search results that pointed to sexual and pornographic Web sites bearing her name and image, according to a Friday report in The New York Times.

The appeals court in Argentina overturned the 2008 ruling of a lower court that had found the companies liable for defamation in the case of Virginia Da Cunha. The Argentine entertainer is one of many celebrities in the country who have been trying to force the search engines to block any sexual-oriented Web sites that contain their names or images.

Lawyers for Da Cuhna have argued that letting third-party sexual Web sites mention their client's name is a violation of her privacy and is producing "moral harm," which goes against Argentina's constitution, the Times said. Beyond Da Cunha, other Argentine celebrities who have been fighting the search engines are local soccer star Diego Maradona and swimsuit model Yesica Toscanini.

But in its reverse decision, the appeals court maintained that the two search companies could only be found liable of defamation if they were informed of illegal content and failed to remove it, said the Times.

In response to the ruling, Bill Carvalho, Yahoo's General Counsel for Latin America, issued the following statement:

"Yahoo! is happy with and encouraged by the Da Cunha ruling; we believe this will set precedence for similar pending cases in Argentina. Rulings in these cases and the preliminary orders associated with them seem to reflect the Argentine courts trying to develop their understanding of an issue created by the modern development of search engines. As they come to more fully understand the Internet and the roles of the various parties involved in these cases - from the search engines to the parties actually publishing the content objected to - we are confident that the courts will conclude that we neither control nor manage the content published by third parties and should not be held responsible or liable for their editorial choices on their own websites."

In its 2008 decision, the lower court had issued temporary restraining orders against Google and Yahoo, requiring the companies to pay damages and asking them to remove from their search results any sexual, erotic, or pornographic sites with Da Cunha's name or photo. The ruling affected only the companies' Argentine search engines and not their U.S. sites.

Both companies had maintained that trying to follow such a broad ruling to filter only certain search results that were deemed pornographic would be difficult. As a result, Yahoo chose to block virtually all sites referencing Da Cunha and other entertainers involved in the case, while Google decided to not to block any sites, though both appealed the ruling.

At the time, Alberto Arebalos, Google's director of Latin America global communications and public affairs, said that Google was appealing the court order because it amounted to "censorship if we block all references to a person, because a lot of those can be lawful."

Arebalos added that "our position always has been we are not going to be the censor of the Internet. If you go to a newsstand and tell the owner he's responsible for reading every paper and finding the articles that could impact somebody, that doesn't make any sense. We are the newsstand."

But Google and Yahoo may not be out of the woods just yet. Judges in Argentina are not required to follow the decision, said the Times, and one of Da Cunha's attorneys said he plans to appeal this latest ruling all the way to the Argentine Supreme Court.

Updated 3 p.m. PDT with statement from Yahoo