No Safe Harbors in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES – Google and Yahoo won an appeal of a lawsuit brought by an Argentine entertainer, Virginia Da Cunha. Her name and some photos showed up in search results connected with sex sites. The appeals court ruled Google and Yahoo weren’t liable for defamation for third-party content.

The victory was a welcome one, but the companies face more than a hundred similar suits in Argentina. But while Internet companies struggle in authoritarian countries over what’s in search results, legal experts say that the Argentine cases are a an example of why developing countries need clear laws governing Internet content.


By VINOD SREEHARSHA

BUENOS AIRES – Google and Yahoo won an appeal of a lawsuit brought by an Argentine entertainer, Virginia Da Cunha. Her name and some photos showed up in search results connected with sex sites. The appeals court ruled Google and Yahoo weren’t liable for defamation for third-party content.

The victory was a welcome one, but the companies face more than a hundred similar suits in Argentina. But while Internet companies struggle in authoritarian countries over what’s in search results, legal experts say that the Argentine cases are a an example of why developing countries need clear laws governing Internet content.Most of Latin America lacks legislation comparable to the United States’ Safe Harbors act that protects technology companies from liability over third-party content.

Although Brazil drew much attention last week for its fast embrace of Twitter, it is also a hot spot for injunctions, although those are less broad than the Argentine ones. Twitter would have to worry about what its users put up should it decide to start operations in Brazil. Marcel Leonardi, a Brazilian professor of Internet law at Fundação Getulio Vargas-Sao Paulo estimates that Google currently faces at least 600 lawsuits in Brazil. This also affects innovation.

Mr. Leonardi says that while companies with deep pockets like Google can bear the costs of litigation, “it is hard to imagine a new service, perhaps a Brazilian Twitter, springing up in such a hostile legal environment.” He contends this is because “no one will be willing to face the consequences of being held liable for everything their users do.” Brazil is debating legislation, but it faces much opposition.

Chile is the exception in the region, with Latin America’s first law providing for a fair use exception and limiting the liability of Internet companies. It took effect in May. It includes a notice and takedown system that is an improvement over the United States’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, says Pedro Less Andrade, senior policy counsel for Google Latin America. Chile’s law was a result of the United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement signed in 2003 that required an update of its intellectual property law. The bill passed the Chilean House 83-1 and the Senate 29-0.

Lawyers think it is unlikely that something similar will even be debated in Argentina. Although Google and Yahoo Argentina won the Da Cunha case and may have the momentum for change, they face many more battles from unhappy private citizens. Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Center at Santa Clara University in the United States, questions that approach to regulating the Internet. “These third parties want the right to veto search results they don’t like, but it’s doubtful they will exercise that veto power in a manner that improves the information economy.”

He cites the example of people with the same names as the Argentine plaintiffs also being blocked as a result of all the injunctions. Google and Yahoo Argentina were found liable for defamation in May against a model named Maria Belen Rodriguez. But two Argentine models have the same name. The plaintiff is lesser-known. In fact, when local media first reported the sentence, some published photos of the wrong Maria Belen Rodriguez.

[http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com]

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