Google Inc. was sentenced to pay 5,000 million pesos (about 250 million dollars) to a Mexican citizen, his wife and their partnership for having allowed the creation and dissemination of a defamatory blog in a free public service of the company. Google Inc. did not create the blog, nor is it responsible for the content, but a court has held the company liable for moral damages.
According to the judgment against Google that I disclosed in The Economistthe California-based company must pay 1,200 million pesos for moral damages to the Mexican lawyer Ulrich Richter Morales, the main actor in the lawsuit, and 700,000 pesos in compensation. For punitive damages (considered in the jurisprudence as exemplary or social retribution), 1,200 million pesos to Richter, an amount similar to his wife and an amount similar to the company formed by Richter and his wife. In addition to material damages based on the Federal Copyright Law for the use and exploitation of the image and intentional modification of a work. In total: about 250 million dollars (must be paid considering the exchange rate on the day of the operation).
The sentence was reached on June 13 in the Eighth Civil Chamber in Mexico City. Google Inc. can resort again to protection and the supreme court, eventually, could attract the case for its importance, its transcendence and its novelty. How could it not have these characteristics if the defendant is one of the five largest companies in the world, if the amount of the penalty is spectacular and if it crosses an issue of freedom of expression and content moderation by private actors?
It would not be the first time that the case Richter vs. Google reaches the Supreme Court: in 2017 a criterion of legitimacy was reached for prosecute foreign companies in Mexico.
The story began in 2015 when Richter sued Google for a blog hosted on the Blogger platform, owned by Google Inc.., where he was linked to various crimes and the cover of one of his books was altered to parody it.
the magistrate Marfa Albarran Montano voted against the sentence, approved with the vote of magistrates Manlio Castillo Colmenares and Álvaro Augusto Pérez Juárez. He presented a dissenting opinion (a dissenting opinion) in which he highlights some factors that could be decisive if the case reaches the Court:
- There has been no court order that compels Google Inc. to delete or terminate the blog that harms the rights of Richter and company. In fact, the blog stay online.
- It was not proven that Google acted with illicit intent, so much so that it is neither the owner of the blog nor responsible for its content, Judge Albarrán said.
- Regarding the quantification of the sanction amounts, the magistrate reproached the criteria of her colleagues because in her opinion the appraisal “does not contain bases to determine why it arrived at those calculations” nor “precise where it obtained the calculations.”
Puts the magnifying glass on the difference in punishment for the author of the blog and for Google Inc. “The degree of responsibility attributed to him should not be lost sight of. [a Google Inc.] in comparison to the creator of the blog and the limitation of the damage for the time that the blog is uploaded, which cannot be extensive to all the profits made and due to the defendant”.
The particular opinion of the magistrate complicates some questions that the case triggers: what is the responsibility of companies such as Google, Facebook either TikTok about the content your users post? Will an exemplary sanction of 250 million dollars inhibit other companies from guaranteeing the freedom of expression of their users? Who will dare to manage a social networking service in Mexico that can lead to multimillion-dollar fines if its users publish illegal content?
Richter vs. Google It is a live bug that will give us new surprises.
Editor of El Economista online
Journalist. Since 2010 he edits the digital version of El Economista in Mexico City. Master in Transparency and Protection of Personal Data from the University of Guadalajara. He has a specialization in telecommunications and information technology law. His personal blog is Economicon.