Search Engine Found Liable in Celebrity Sexpic Case

Rhett Pardon
BERLIN — A meta-search engine that aggregates content from other search engines can be held liable for defamatory content, a German court has ruled.

The case decided last week involved popular German TV host Babette Einstmann, who had received a temporary injunction against meta-search engine operator Sharelook Beteiligungen GmbH over a link that allegedly listed her name in connection with an online adult site when the search term “naked” was entered.

Arguing the TV host couldn’t reproduce the objectionable search results and that it offered no content of its own, Sharelook refused to remove the link. Einstmann later sued.

Meta-search engines are a slight variation on a traditional search engine because they allow users to search several search engines at once. Some meta-search engines blend the results together; others keep the results separate.

In court, justices disagreed with the Sharelook's argument that it was immune from liability, ruling that the meta-search engine was obligated to ensure that infringing items not reappear in its results list in the future.

The Berlin Landgericht said that providing a link to “unlawful” third-party content subjects the link provider to liability as well.

Justices ruled that the fact that the search engine is a meta-search engine does not justify exempting it for making accessible third-party content that is defamatory.

The court added that Sharelook and other meta-search engines could limit the scope of their liability by using filtering software.

Sharelook vowed to appeal the decision.

The case is Einstmann vs. Sharelook Beteiligungen GmbH.