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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Essay: Search Engine Liability for Autocomplete Defamation

I mentioned back in September that I had written an essay that was forthcoming in the Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy.  The essay was recently published, and I have put the final version on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Several online search engines use autocomplete features that display search suggestions as users type search queries. This Essay investigates the potential for search engine liability for defamatory statements that are displayed through their autocomplete search suggestions. This Essay describes the technology involved, outlines potential defamation claims against search engines, and notes the obstacle presented by the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Recent legal developments limit the immunity that the CDA would typically provide to search engines and this Essay explores how prospective plaintiffs may take advantage of these developments. This Essay first discusses a potential argument from Fair Housing Council v., LLC, but concludes that policy implications of this argument ultimately undermine its credibility. This Essay then turns to the less-explored case of Batzel v. Smith and concludes that Batzel provides a narrower, more direct argument against search engine immunity. This Essay concludes that prospective plaintiffs have a strong argument against search engine immunity. This removes a critical obstacle in the path of defamation claims.

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