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The international impact of online reputation attacks
An online reputation attack, which includes the posting of defamatory claims against a business on the internet, might not be as simple to resolve, if the business operates internationally. To remove defamation from Google worldwide, you might need to use the services of reputation lawyers from different countries who have expertise in defamation law in their own jurisdiction.
In most cases, following an online reputation attack against a business, you will want the defamatory posts to be removed from all Google search results as quickly as possible. Whilst there is also a great scope for removing defamation from Google searches by communicating with Google’s legal team. In many cases, Google's legal team will ask for a court order before they agree to the removal of the defamatory posts from Google searches.
Depending on the country where the defamation occurs, obtaining judgment for defamation, and an injunction, could take at least a few weeks in most cases. However, when your reputation lawyer presents the judgment to Google, they might find that Google defamation removal policies are insufficient to satisfy every clients’ needs.
Broadly speaking, Google’s policy on removing defamation from Google searches, has two main features. The first, says that Google will adhere to local laws, which means that if, following an online reputation attack, your reputation lawyer obtains judgment for defamation in the USA, Google will de-list the offending defamatory search results from Google searches as seen in the USA.
If you have obtained a defamation injunction in England, Google will honour the defamation injunction by again, only in relation to internet searches that are carried out within the UK. The second feature of Google policy on removing defamation from internet searches, is that in the absence of a local, or a national defamation injunction, Google will still de-list the defamatory posts from search results within a particular jurisdiction, but only if you can prove that you have reputation within that jurisdiction.
For example, if you have obtained a defamation injunction in the USA and wanted to have defamatory search results de-listed from Google searches in the UK, you will need to either prove to Google that you have reputation to protect in the UK, or obtain a separate, or a domesticated injunction from a court within the UK.
Our client, Mr. Russo (not his real name) was a successful American manufacturer who built a successful business, designing, manufacturing and delivering high end office furniture across the USA. Mr Russo’s unique process allowed his business to expand to Japan, Russia and countries in the European Economic Area. Mr Russo had been a reputable entrepreneur who over the years, had created a rental property portfolio in Manhattan, offering affordable business rental properties.
Following the recent financial crisis, a large number of Mr Russo’s commercial tenants defaulted on their rent and a few had to be evicted from the commercial property they occupied. One of the evicted tenants had developed an obsession with Mr Russo. The tenant started a crusade against Mr Russo with a campaign of an online reputation attack against him and against his successful office furniture business.
The online reputation attack against Mr Russo and his business was vicious. It included publication of hundreds of defamatory web pages, attacking Mr Russo’s character and spearing his furniture business. Mr. Russo’s defamation law firm in the USA successfully sued the defamer for defamation and obtained an a defamation injunction against him which they sought to enforce on Google, who, in accordance with its defamation removal policy, de-listed the defamatory web pages from its USA search results.
However, when the American law firm sought to enforce the injunction against Google, they found that the search engine only agreed to de-list the offending search result within the USA and refused to have the same defamatory search results de-listed from its worldwide Google search network. This meant that whilst the offending search result would not be accessible in the United States, they would still be accessible in countries throughout Europe and South East Asia, where Mr Russo had substantial business interests and reputation to protect.
The attack on Mr Russo’s reputation worldwide and Google’s USA policy of limited de-listing of defamation was extremely disheartening. Mr Russo hoped for the defamatory search result to be de-listed on Google’s entire search network as opposed to just nationally.
Our firm was instructed to facilitate the removal of the defamatory Google searches from the UK and the rest of the world. The firm was chosen because of its extensive experience with this type of work and because of the wide international network of attorneys it has created over the past 20 years.
In each country, where our client required the removal of defamatory search results, the starting point was to communicate with Google legal team that was responsible for the particular locality. It some countries, Google simply agreed to de-list the defamatory search results, based on the USA defamation injunction.
For an American client who already has a defamation injunction from a court in the USA, there would typically be three options for the removal of Google searches worldwide. The first option is to follow Google’s defamation removal policy, which would require our client to prove that he has reputation to protect in the UK.
Under English law, which is different from many other jurisdictions in this respect, you are born with reputation. In other words, reputation is not something that one needs to prove but its rather a birthright that anyone in the world enjoys. It would normally be sufficient to point this out to Google legal team, to satisfy this particular policy requirement.
Whilst defamation law in the UK might not require one to positively have to prove good reputation, the law in most EU countries is different. In the case of Mr Russo, who was an American with an Italian descent, we discovered that he held dual nationality, which meant we were could have the entire EU covered, for the removal of the defamatory search results, not under defamation law, but rather under European data protection laws. In some cases, a the European right to be forgotten is available to USA citizens.
European data protection laws confer a right on an individual to request that a search engine de-lists the inaccurate and excessive data about them. Publications which had already been declared by a court as defamatory, would naturally also fall under the data protection category of being inaccurate.
Using data protection laws our lawyers were able to successfully secure the de-listing from google entire European search network all the defamatory publications about our client.
To remove defamatory Google searches from Google search results in Russia, we needed to prove that Mr Russo enjoyed good reputation in Russia. To prove this, we collected evidence, letters of support, letters of recommendations, references an commercial correspondence from Mr Russo business associates in Russia.
After presenting the evidence, together with an affidavit and the injunction from the USA court to Google legal team, we were able to secure the de-listing of the defamatory search results from Google Russian search network.
The process of securing a defamation injunction in Belarus is relatively fast. In most cases, it is possible to secure a fresh court order, equivalent to a defamation injunction, from a Belarus court relatively quickly.
A defamation court order to remove defamatory search results form Google searches in Belarus can usually be secured within serval weeks.
On this occasion, we considered obtaining a fresh defamation court order from the court in Belarus to be the quickest way to secure the removal of defamatory Google searches in Belarus.
We have been assisted by a local defamation attorney in Japan who was able to domesticate the USA defamation court order under Japanese law.
In other words, the defamation lawyer in Japan followed a relatively straightforward legal process of affirming the USA defamation court order in Japan and giving it the same force as if the court order was given by a Japanese court in the first place.
The case of Mr Russo, took nearly two years to complete. The original defamation injunction in the USA took the longest, but it gave a good starting point for our efforts to have defamation removed from Google in various jurisdictions.
Whilst in some cases, were able to capture several countries with a single request, in other cases, it was necessary to work country by country and have a defamation removal strategy set for the requirements, likelihood of success and speed of each jurisdiction.
The international impact of online reputation attacks is often significant to business with international operation. It would often require huge efforts, expertise and co-operation to repair online reputation damage on an international scale.