Right to be forgotten: Dutch ruling is good news for media companies

In a positive new development for media companies, the Court of Amsterdam has said that the Google Spain judgement should not be used as a backdoor to supress unpleasant news reporting.

The Dutch Court was considering a case concerning the right to be forgotten principle.  The claimant was a senior accountant who had featured in news reports following an argument with his building contractor which had resulted in him having to live in a container on his country estate for some time.  It was reported that the accountant had failed to pay the contractor’s bills, at which point the contractor had changed the locks.

The accountant was attempting to assert his right to be forgotten in respect of the Google search results relating to reports of this incident.  He ultimately ended up in Court against Google who had refused to remove results relating to this story from its search function.

The case turned on whether the search results pointing to news articles covering the accountant’s ‘container story’ were still relevant.  The Court ruled that they were still relevant because the saga was still being mentioned in news reports first published at the end of last year (relatively recently) but suggested that at some point in the future, they may lose this quality of relevance.

Perhaps of most interest though is what the Judge said prior to giving judgement:  “The [right of removal] is not meant to remove articles which may be unpleasant, but not unlawful, from the eyes of the public via the detour of a request for removal to the operator of a search machine.”

This case stresses the important role played by search engines in making news stories available to the public.  News organizations should welcome the acknowledgment that the Courts are not open to Google Spain becoming a covert route to the suppression of uncomfortable news reporting.

For more information, please contact Caroline Kean