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CPA Googles For His Name, Sues Google For Libel 619

Posted by timothy
from the sue-you-sue-anyone dept.
fbform writes "Mark Maughan, an accountant, searched Google for his name on March 25 2003 and found some 'alarming, false, misleading and injurious' information about himself and his firm. Therefore, he is now suing Google, Yahoo (which used Google as its search engine at the time), AOL (for using Google to enhance its search results) and Time Warner (because they're the same company as AOL) for libel. Specifically, his lawyer John Girardi believes that Google's PageRank algorithm takes known good information and twists its context when displaying search results."
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CPA Googles For His Name, Sues Google For Libel

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  • by gregwbrooks (512319) * <gregb@NOSpam.west-third.com> on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:05PM (#8624349)
    Googling for "litigious schmuck" now turns up a new entry...

    • by savagedome (742194)
      Although, GW and Michael Moore are still planning their miserable failure [google.com] lawsuits!
      • by dtfinch (661405) * on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:35PM (#8624608) Journal
        bastards [google.com]
      • Funniest thing about that search [google.com] --- underneath the GWB link is a Jimmy Carter link. Both are accompanied by a Google directory link.

        Jimmy Carter is under

        Society --> History

        George W. Bush is under

        Kids and Teens --> School Time
        :-)
      • by l810c (551591) * on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:40AM (#8625236)
        This is funny, but it isn't.

        Put aside the joke and you have arguably one of the most powerful information tools in the history of internet (and the world?) being hijacked by it's own algorithms.

        There have been numerous stories here and else ware lately about tricking Google. Things like this and those search engine Spam sites are seriously starting to skew the intent of a search engine (i.e., provide links to relevant pages)

        • by scenic (4226) * <sujalNO@SPAMsujal.net> on Sunday March 21, 2004 @01:38AM (#8625533) Homepage Journal
          They're not really tricking the search engine... they're simply generating content. The search engine is picking up the fact that a lot of people believe a term is associated with a particular page...

          Isn't that what a search engine is supposed to do? I mean, if you search for a concept on the web, you should find what people believe is the relevant content for that term... it's not hijacking. It's simply reflecting the terms people use to refer to a particular page.

          To say that Google needs to do something about this is silly. The algorithms are working as intended. If you disagree with the opinion of the people making the connection between the term and the page, well, take it up with the people making the links or make your own links to the "right" place.

          Sujal

          • by l810c (551591) * on Sunday March 21, 2004 @02:02AM (#8625643)
            They're not really tricking the search engine... they're simply generating content.

            Huh?

            Check out this page [glennbeck.com] which is promoting bombing Michael Moore. I use this page as it is a nice antithesis to the Bush search. I don't care whom it refers to, just that it is wrong.

            From the site:
            Once you have signed up construct a simple website, fill it up with your shopping list, a log of what you had for lunch or whatever, it doesn't matter (or how about a nice Glenn Beck fan site, but please

            When you update your website, which should be a couple of times a week, be sure to include the following HTML at some point:

            Michael <a href="http://www.michaelmoore.com/" title="Miserable Failure">"Miserable Failure"</a> Moore

            These people are clearly Not providing content, but Are Tricking Google. And they(Google) Should do something about it.

    • by Alsee (515537) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:18PM (#8624450) Homepage
      I think you meant litigious schmuck [google.com]

      -
      • by jhunsake (81920) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:29PM (#8624558) Journal
        Actually this search does turn up that he was in trouble before with the state: Mark+Maughan+cpa [google.com].
        • by KrispyKringle (672903) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:12PM (#8624783)
          ``For purposes of settlement, Respondent admits the truth and accuracy of the allegations and charges in the Accusation. Respondent and his accountancy corporation engaged in the practice of public accounting with expired licenses.

          Respondent additionally failed to pay an administrative fine imposed by the Board for failing to supply the Board with copies of a financial report representing the highest level of service rendered, in accordance with Section 89.1 of the California Code of Regulations. Respondent's failure to pay the administrative fine caused the Board to withhold renewal of his CPA license.''

          I'd be tempted to point out that if he admits the claims are true, it wouldn't be libel. I know he claims that it's taken out of context, but I'm reasonably sure that context is unimportant; assuming a party has full rights to reproduce in part or in whole the information (which in this case Google does, since Mr. Maughan doesn't own the information being presented), I see no legal issues with reproducing it only in part. I thought that if it were factual, it would not be libel, regardless of context. Not positive, though.

          Either way, he clearly hopes for a quick settlement (though I don't think that will happen; precedence on this would just really hurt Google, so they're bound to fight it). No way this is going to help his reputation, after all.

          • by Chordonblue (585047) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:48AM (#8625276) Journal
            He needs to take this up with the original posters of this information. You can sue someone for libeling you (hopefully if it's not true), but you can't sue Xerox for printing the copy.

            Stupid fscking lawsuits. How about this - don't be an asshole and you'll have nothing to worry about to begin with - END OF LINE.

            • by Facekhan (445017) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @02:34PM (#8628381)
              Libel cases almost cannot be won in the United States. The burden of proof is extremely high.

              check out: http://www.ldrc.com/LDRC_Info/libelfaqs.html#What% 20is%20Libel?


              In order for the person about whom a statement is made to recover for libel, the false statement must be defamatory, meaning that it actually harms the reputation of the other person, as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive.

              The statement(s) alleged to be defamatory must have been published to at least one other person (other than the subject of the statement) and must be "of and concerning" the plaintiff. That is, those hearing or reading the statement must identify it specifically with the plaintiff.

              The statement(s) alleged to be defamatory must also be a false statement of fact. Since name-calling, hyperbole, or exaggerated and heated words cannot be proven true or false, they cannot be the subject of a libel or slander claim.

              The defamatory statement must also have been made with fault. The extent of the fault depends primarily on the status of the plaintiff. Public figures, such as government officials, celebrities, well-known individuals, and people involved in specific public controversies, are required to prove actual malice, a legal term which means the defendant knew his statement was false or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of his statement. In general, in most jurisdictions private individuals must show only that the defendant was negligent, that he failed to act with due care in the situation.

              A defamation claim will likely fail if any of these elements are not met.

              While on many of these issues the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, the primary defenses to a defamation claim are that the statements are true, are not statements of fact, or are privileged. Some defamatory statements may be protected by privilege, meaning that in certain circumstances the interest in communicating a statement outweighs the interest in protecting reputation. For example, most, if not all, jurisdictions recognize a privilege for fair reports of government and judicial proceedings, and for reports of misconduct to the proper authorities or to those who share a common interest (such as within a family or an association). Privileges do vary somewhat from state to state in their scope and requirements. They often apply to non-media defendants to the same degree as to media defendants.

      • by fiddlesticks (457600) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:19PM (#8624811) Homepage
        it's *exceedingly unlikely* that the Mark Maughan who's currently top of the google search is the same guy - a (US-based?) 'South Bay accountant' - who's suing google

        The top link returned atm takes you here (http://www.polo-gt.co.uk/mk4/mmaughan.htm [polo-gt.co.uk] - a UK site about VW Polo cars

        The UK Mark Maughan has a Mk 4 Polo, fyi.

        He's probably not a 'litigious schmuck'
    • by c1ay (703047) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:30PM (#8624566) Homepage
      Does Utah allow gay marriage? I think Mr. Maughan and Darl would make a happy couple, and as litigious schmucks they'd probably avoid divorce. Anyone got Mark Maughan's email address?

      • by Anonymous Coward
        I have no idea about the state of gay marriage, but as for this guy, I found this info via Google.

        By reading this, you agree not to sue me and not to use this information unlawfully :P I'm just reporting what I've found, verbatim, from Google. I didn't write up any of this information, I've just pieced it together and I have no idea how true any of it is.

        Of course, *since* I found it via Google, it may well be the same "false and misleading" information. Hell, I don't even know if this is the right guy
    • by AndroidCat (229562) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:49PM (#8624995) Homepage
      Here's some more alarming news for him: His computer is broadcasting an IP address! He should probably sue the Internet.
  • by Spytap (143526) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:07PM (#8624357)
    ...how much of it was true? ;)
    • by sittingbull (526322) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:34PM (#8624601)
      You can't sue for Libel, or slander if the information is TRUE. This Mark fellow will lose big and fast and hard and deservingly.

      What triggered this post was "how much of it was true" -- Spytap is right. If true, Mark M. is up the creek w/o a lawsuit. If false, well thats not Google's problem.
      • by Unordained (262962) <unordained_slash ... @pseudotheos.com> on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:26PM (#8624856) Homepage
        I would think that it wouldn't be slander/libel if the person providing the "information" believed it to be true, or did not know it to be false. It's not illegal to be wrong, but you can sue someone for willfully presenting as true something they know to be false (lying,) for the purpose of injuring you in some way (defamation.)

        As far as I know, you can't sue anyone for simply lying. (Holocaust denial, for example?) Truth-in-advertising is close to that, though it does contain a sense of profit/interest in the matter. (Defamation being assumed to provide advantages to the person lying.)
        • by squiggleslash (241428) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:36AM (#8625219) Homepage Journal
          Depends entirely on the juristiction, and the crime ultimately is based on the concept of defaming someone's character. Whether you did it deliberately, or thought you were telling the truth, doesn't mean you didn't defame someone - they're still defamed, just as if I kick you in the testicles (or equivalent pain-sensitive appendage), it still hurts, regardless of whether it was deliberate or not.

          This has lead to some interesting situations in Britain where the "defendent has to prove innocence" rules that pecularily apply to libel (well, in fairness, the prosection does have to prove the defendent made the allegation, and that it harmed the reputation of the person the defendent is being accused of having libelled, but once that's proved, the onus is on the defendent to prove the allegation is true.) I'm aware, for example, of cases where a libel case defendent won on the grounds that the person "libelled" didn't have a reputation to begin with - Derek Jameson, a newspaper editor, lost a case for that reason and there are more extreme cases that have never reached court. If I were to falsely accuse a convicted rapist of raping someone, that person would have a hard time bringing a libel case against me.

          Likewise the theoretical possibility of cases where someone makes a true, provable, accusation, and loses a libel case (with the court agreeing that the allegation is true) is a possibility. The only cases I can think of off the top of my head never went to court. Accuse someone of being a liar or fraud over something trivial ("He is a liar your honour, someone told me he ducked out of their party early feigning illness, and then turned out to have gone to another later that evening!") in the context of something serious, and you could be in a whole heap of trouble.

        • by general_re (8883) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @02:43AM (#8625786) Homepage
          I would think that it wouldn't be slander/libel if the person providing the "information" believed it to be true, or did not know it to be false.

          You can get burned for slander or libel even if you believe what you are saying is true, if you reasonably should have known it was false. If I (falsely) state that you are currently on parole for child molestation, the fact that I really honestly believe that to be true is not going to save me, not when I could have easily refuted it with some minimal effort at verification.

          In other words, if you can verify the truthfulness or falsity of what you're saying by expending a bit of reasonable effort, you'll be expected to have done so when your court date rolls around - the law will not allow you to get by with saying defamatory things that you have no reasonable right to believe.

      • by Martin Blank (154261) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:51AM (#8625293) Journal
        California Civil Code covers libel thusly:

        44. Defamation is effected by either of the following:
        (a) Libel.
        (b) Slander.

        45. Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.

        45a. A libel which is defamatory of the plaintiff without the necessity of explanatory matter, such as an inducement, innuendo or other extrinsic fact, is said to be a libel on its face. Defamatory language not libelous on its face is not actionable unless the plaintiff alleges and proves that he has suffered special damage as a proximate result thereof. Special damage is defined in Section 48a of this code.

        [snip]

        48a (b) "Special damages" are all damages which plaintiff alleges and proves that he has suffered in respect to his property, business, trade, profession or occupation, including such amounts of money as the plaintiff alleges and proves he has expended as a result of the alleged libel, and no other[.]


        There's some other information in that section which requires more ability to read legalese than I possess, but it does not seem that he has much of a case, because the presentation of this information is in the context of a privileged communication, which is defined in Section 47 (and is too long to reproduce here) but basically protects that published under legal requirements or as part of official records or proceedings, which this is. Google is no more at fault here than would be the clerk recorder of his county for presenting the information to someone asking about him.
    • by the gnat (153162) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:03PM (#8624746)
      Joking aside, the information he's unhappy about being listed for him included a .ca.gov site (which lists disciplinary proceedings). So it's already a matter of public record. I think he's suing because this is the first hit, which he claims is misleading. Well, it's in a public database - I actually think Google is doing us a service.

      Any competent judge will throw this out right away, same as happened to that Search King dickwad.
  • by MikeXpop (614167) <mikeNO@SPAMredcrowbar.com> on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:07PM (#8624358) Journal
    I think it should be manditory for people to know how things work before they can sue someone. I realize why this guy's suing (it wasn't HIS lisence revoked) but seriously. He should be given the job to check over the 3 billion pages google has for libel.
    • by eniu!uine (317250) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:19PM (#8624457)
      "I think it should be manditory for people to know how things work before they can sue someone."

      Does this mean no one will be able to sue me if I write destructive code in perl?

    • by Surazal (729) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:28PM (#8624548) Homepage Journal
      I kinda agree... between this guy, SCO, Microsoft, and everyone else these days, it seems like childish behavior in the courtroom is the order of the day.

      Of course, sometimes I wonder if it's always been like this. The internet I think is bringing things into the sunlight that are normally hidden in darkness....

      Maybe this publicity is having a positive effect. Few of the grown-ups I know approve of childish behavior, so stories on people like this ought to show the public their true faces: adults acting like spoiled rotten kids.
      • by zurab (188064)

        I kinda agree... between this guy, SCO, Microsoft, and everyone else these days, it seems like childish behavior in the courtroom is the order of the day.

        This is more than childish. It's frivolous and should be criminal. I mean the guy is suing Yahoo and AOL for using Google? Maybe he could also sue thousands, if not millions, of websites that have a textbox with "google search" button next to it, or a link to Google's website too (because we all know that linking is illegal too)!

    • by Rick the Red (307103) <Rick.The.Red@gma i l . c om> on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:29PM (#8624559) Journal
      You're close. It should be manditory for the plantif to pay court costs and the defendant's legal costs if the plantif loses. Period. That's all the tort reform we need. It would halt frivolous lawsuits overnight. But that would put a lot of lawyers out of work, and since most legislators are lawyers it will never become law.
      • It would also stop a lot of cases where the plantiff will be out-gunned. For instance, ANY lawsuit by a normal citizen vs. a corporation.
        • Simple solution (Score:4, Insightful)

          by xant (99438) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @01:34AM (#8625522) Homepage
          Permit loser-pays up to the loser's own costs or some pre-set minimum (otherwise lawyers acting as own counsel will be able to get away with paying one dollar every time).

          In fact, it should just be "loser pays winner amount of loser's costs". If I sue MS and lose, I pay a few hundred or whatever. If MS pays me and loses, I get lawyer fees for their entire legal department on top of my award. :-)
      • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:53PM (#8624699)

        Let me begin by saying that I agree with you that lawsuits are out of control.

        But...

        The sort of reform you suggest is not fair. We all know that guilty (or in this case liable) parties are found not liable, and not liable parties are found liable. It happens, especially in law where the running joke that "a jury is twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer" isn't that far from the truth.

        An unintended consequence of this reform is to limit completely LEGITIMATE lawsuits and make big corporations essentially untouchable for the average Joe Citizen. We all know that the bigger the corporation or the richer the party, the more lawyers they have and the more expensive each one is. Even if somebody has a legitimate claim against the corporation, are they going to take the chance of having to pay $150,000 if a jury doesn't agree? How about a half million? They would be especially wary about doing so if the amount they're claiming is less than the amount that they were likely to lose if their case was rejected.

        On the other side of the coin, it permits companies and rich people from continuing to run rampant over the judicial system by simply accepting the risks or for intimidation purposes--one of the main purposes of lawsuits today. Tort reform that only reforms the lower- and middle-classes... there just has to be something better.

        On a completely DIFFERENT coin, even if your idea was otherwise flawless there would still be a problem: Namely, that some unbelievable percentage of cases never even reach court. So if that number is 85% (I can't find a figure right now), that means you're only having an effect on the remaining 15% of lawsuits anyway. It would be a start, but hardly a big impact.

        Personally, I think the problem is attitude. When people stop believing that everybody owes them something, that if any mistake is ever made they should sue the pants off of somebody, the lawsuit problem will cease to exist. But that attitude plays on human nature's inherent greed, so I'm not sure it ever will.

        • by Rick the Red (307103) <Rick.The.Red@gma i l . c om> on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:05PM (#8624750) Journal
          An unintended consequence of this reform is to ... make big corporations essentially untouchable for the average Joe Citizen.
          While I see your point, I believe this is already the case. Your best bet against a big corporation is small claims court. Successful lawsuits against big corporations are almost always class actions, where a bunch of average Joe Citizens pool their resources.

          OK, so my plan isn't perfect. Can anyone suggest anything better?

          • by k_head (754277)
            There really is no need to do anything special. The judges already have the discretion to throw our frivolous suits. They don't and that's the problem. The solution is to somehow kick the judges in the ass so they will use their discretionary powers.

            How about this. If a review panel finds that the lawsuit was frivolous the judge who didn't throw it out has to pay the fees for both lawyers.
          • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @01:01AM (#8625345)
            OK, so my plan isn't perfect. Can anyone suggest anything better?

            Tactical thermonuclear device.
          • by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012@p[ ].to ['ota' in gap]> on Sunday March 21, 2004 @04:10AM (#8626098)
            OK, so my plan isn't perfect. Can anyone suggest anything better?

            Sure. The rule should be that the loser pays the winner's legal bills, but the loser need pay no more to the winner than they paid to their own lawyers.

            That way you can control the amount you want to risk, and the maximum exposure is only twice what people risk now.

            There are still some slight problems with this (e.g., suits where one of the participants acts at their own lawyer) but I think they're all fixable.
  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) * on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:07PM (#8624361) Homepage Journal
    Google's PageRank algorithm takes known good information and twists its context

    Yeah it isn't like lawyers to do that is it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:07PM (#8624362)
    Hey everybody, I heard that Mark Maughan once killed a man in Reno just to watch him die!

    He also has poor math skills and failed basic algebra twice.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:08PM (#8624364)
    I called several of my business' competitors, and asked them for their opinion on my company, and they said they were better! This is outrageous!
  • by billstewart (78916) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:08PM (#8624365) Journal
    ... is censorship, because if they delete him from Google nobody can find him.
  • by Trespass (225077) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:08PM (#8624367) Homepage
    He just wants some free publicity. Seriously, this will be good for his business.

    Tort reform, anyone?
  • by gbrayut (715117) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:09PM (#8624376) Homepage
    Man sues white pages for listing his name and phone number. WTF!
    • Re:In other news (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:23PM (#8624504)
      Don't laugh. I did.
      I requested, was charged for and I paid for an unlisted number. The phone company published my number anyway and I filed suit on them in small claims court. The phone company did not show up in court and I won a default judgement against them for $1,000.

      They never paid me. And when I called them and demanded satisfaction, they began screwing me on my phone bills. My $29 a month phone bill suddenly exploded into $600 a month bills for bogus charges, bogus equipment, bogus repairs, bogus services and bogus installations. The more I complained the worse it got, when I refused to pay the bills they cut my phone off then charged me hundreds of dollars to reconnect it and HUGE deposits.

      Fucking thieves SBC is.... I cut the wires at the pole and the house and rolled up the wire and kept it. I now use only a cell phone.

      I will NEVER have a land line again.
      BTW, I had previously had an unlisted number for over 15 years.

      • by boarder (41071) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:11PM (#8624780) Homepage
        Excuse me, but if you went through the trouble of going to court with this, why did you not take it all the way? I mean, you won $1000, why did you call THEM asking for satisfaction? Why not take further legal action? I'm sorry, but if a company owes me that kind of money, I'm going to get it.

        The next part is even more unbelievable. As big as SBC is, I highly doubt that some low level bill supervisor cares about your lawsuit and complaints enough to perform highly illegal actions (of which you have written, documented proof in your bill). Even more ludicrous is that a high level manager would care about something so petty as $1000 to fuck with you. Then, even if this did happen, why did you not take those bills to the Better Business Bureau or to small claims court again?

        All of this sounds like urban legend... even the $1000. I would guess that a judge would fine them the amount you paid to have your phone unlisted, then ordered them to take your name out of the next version of the phone book.
        • by King_TJ (85913) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:46PM (#8624979) Journal
          Yeah, you make a valid point that the next step would have been going back to the courts to complain about the judgement going unpaid.

          But you don't find it believable that people at SBC would alter your bill in retaliation?

          I'm sure it happens more often than you'd think. While SBC makes it incredibly tough for employees to add new services to an existing line (upgrading your DSL to a faster speed, for example, requires approval of several levels of people), it's shockingly *easy* for 3rd. parties to add charges to a monthly phone bill.

          Anyone can create a bogus "shell" company that claims to provide long distance services, and proceed to bill customers for usage. It's part of SBC's job to pass these 3rd. party telco charges along on your statement - and good luck getting them removed if they're incorrect!

          I've known several people (and companies) that had this happen to them before. Sometimes, people even call pretending to be a well-known service like Sprint, when in reality, they're just a Sprint reseller who tacks a big profit margin onto Sprint's normal rates. Sure, they give you "Sprint" long distance, but not at Sprint's normal prices.

          A dishonest employee could easily find some way to mess up your phone bill, without resorting to the difficult-to-implement method of upgrading the services you already pay for on your line. It only takes a few seconds to check-mark a few things in the computer and you might be paying a monthly "line maintenance fee" you never requested, or a change to your preferred long distance calling plan that costs you many $'s more than before.
  • by Cyberglich (525256) * on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:10PM (#8624388)
    Last i checked Libel required some form of intent since google's results are computer generrated by the web spiders where the intent do the spiders have it out for him?
  • by rritterson (588983) * on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:10PM (#8624391)
    If this guy gets any money.... actually, if this guy gets any money, it will only continue the current legal trends.

    However, I was going to say that if this guy gets any money our legal system will have gone kaput. This is like suing a library for providing books which contain recommendations against your products. It's also like suing me for giving you a book with the same information.

    What a great example of shooting the messenger... how pathetically ridiculous.

    Oh, and is this guy actually suing the parties responsible for the creation of the socalled 'defamatory content'? Probably not, seeing as how they are broke due to doing business with a poor accountant.
    • by autopr0n (534291) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:16PM (#8624440) Homepage Journal
      Not exactly.

      It's more like suing a library for saying "oh, That guy? There's a book about him on teir 5, row six that says he murdered a little girl", then when you get to teir 5 row six, the book about him says that he once got a speeding ticket and didn't pay, but the book next to it says that some other guy murdered a little girl.

      If the library refused to stop giving out that nugget of information when you asked them too, would you not be pissed?

      Actually, all of us here should be smart enough to understand the situation without ridiculous metaphors. Google's page summary is giving out misleading information about him, and they refuse to do anything about it. I don't think the onus should be on Google to prevent this, but I don't see why they can't act on complaints they do get.
      • No, stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

        by IshanCaspian (625325) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:10PM (#8624773) Homepage
        A librarian is a bad example, because Google doesn't even understand what a person is...it's just a pattern-matching algorithm. You make them sound like some kind of a malevolent agent that refuses to stop telling big mean 'ol nasty lies...the truth of the matter is that Google just scans for whatever words you put in it, and if someone is publishing information that contains those words, it's going to turn up.

        Furthermore, there are so many people in the world with any given name there's no expectation that just giving google a name is enough to be sure you're going to be talking about the same person.

        This is like looking in the card catalog for your name and then suing the library for libel.

        Don't be so quick to knock ridiculous metaphors, you had a really ridiculous one and you didn't seem to understand what was going on at all.
  • by SamTheButcher (574069) * on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:11PM (#8624400) Journal
    Have fun tilting at that windmill, bub.
  • Whoopie (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tyrdium (670229) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:11PM (#8624405) Homepage
    Looks like he didn't read Google's terms of service [google.com]...
    Google disclaims any and all responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, completeness, legality, reliability, or operability or availability of information or material displayed in the GOOGLE SERVICES results. Google disclaims any responsibility for the deletion, failure to store, misdelivery, or untimely delivery of any information or material. Google disclaims any responsibility for any harm resulting from downloading or accessing any information or material on the Internet through the GOOGLE SERVICES.
    IANAL, but this seems to be saying that they are not liable for anything Google serves up. Given that, by doing this search and suing them for its results, he's violating its terms of service, I don't think he can do much... It's like the clause in a Microsoft EULA that says they aren't responsible for any damages related to or caused by their product.
    • Bad logic (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mistlefoot (636417) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:29PM (#8624553)
      That's plain bad logic.

      If I offer you child porn with a disclaimer, no matter what's in the disclaimer, traffiking in the child porn would still be illegal.

      There are many instances where you cannot be forced to abandon your rights by signing a contract saying that you do. And this Google search happens whether or not the 'complaintent' searched or not. He's concerned about other people doing this.

      I've no idea who's right here, but your logic fails badly.
    • by SmackCrackandPot (641205) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:41PM (#8624641)
      It's only right that Google should validate the truth of every one of the six billion pages indexed by their system. After all, eager minds want to know:

      Who really killed JFK, did Tammy really make out with Nick at the end of the high school prom, and whether UFO's, the Lock Ness Monster, bigfoot, black triangles and the chucacubra really exist or not. This could save so much effort and time wasted on speculation and controversy.
  • by danwiz (538108) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:14PM (#8624422)
    An interesting side-effect is that because of the publicity, the search engine will rank his 'alarming, false, misleading and injurious' information even higher!

    Wonder if this will add strength to his case?

  • by rice_burners_suck (243660) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:17PM (#8624446)
    Funny thing. I click on the "Read More" link for this story, and the huge ad that appears directly under it is for...Google!!! Is that irony, or does /. use some algorithm for displaying related ads inside stories, for users who would be more likely to click on those ads?

    Anyway, here's what I was going to post... Can this CPA add up 2 and 2? If there is libelous information on the Internet, and he wishes to pursue litigation, then he should go after the persons responsible for the information. Google is only an index, making the information on the Internet easily available for access. Without Google (and perhaps without similar search engines), it would be all but impossible to find anything useful on the Internet.

    In fact, I think the aforementioned CPA should THANK Google for making it possible for him to FIND the offending information, so that he can take action against whomever he should take action. Without Google, the alleged libel might have been posted all over the Internet and our friend the CPA would never have been any the wiser.

    I further think there is no basis in law for suing an index for pointing to information. On the contrary, I think this was tested in court quite a few times (in all those trials against linking to pages within a site) and it was decided that you can link to whatever the heck you want to link to.

    Therefore, I think this CPA is making a stupid decision, and I believe the case will get dismissed. I hope Google countersues for legal fees. And wins.

    Oh yeah, and did I mention I'm a Supreme Court Justice? Yeah, the Supreme Court of Bullshit.

  • The offending link (Score:5, Informative)

    by cybermancer (99420) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:18PM (#8624455) Homepage
    I imagine this is the offending link to the California Diciplinary Actions List [ca.gov]. All the information he claims Google distorted is displayed in black on white on the page owned by ca.gov. Don't know how anyone else could be liable for that.

    So in other words he is suing Google, et al. for pointing to publicly available records that are not flattering. The odd side effect is now that everyone will see this link and know all the sorted details about he and his law firm. Before he made this fuss no one would have cared. Maybe he will sue me too for posting this link. Hmm. . . .

    • by Phosphor3k (542747)
      Maybe he's suing because of the summary of the page:
      Disciplinary Actions List - Bi-Bz ... Effective July 1, 1993. BROWN & MAUGHAN, AN ACCOUNTANCY CORPORATION (COR 2529). MAUGHAN, MARK G. (CPA 38184) Fountain Valley/Rolling Hills Estates, CA. ...
  • by Jeff Reed (209535) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:19PM (#8624462)
    This [ca.gov] page seems to list some disciplinary action taken against his law firm. I quote from the "Cause for Discipline" column (all emphasis mine):

    For purposes of settlement, Respondent admits the truth and accuracy of the allegations and charges in the Accusation. Respondent and his accountancy corporation engaged in the practice of public accounting with expired licenses.

    Respondent additionally failed to pay an administrative fine imposed by the Board for failing to supply the Board with copies of a financial report representing the highest level of service rendered, in accordance with Section 89.1 of the California Code of Regulations. Respondent's failure to pay the administrative fine caused the Board to withhold renewal of his CPA license.


    Sounds like someone knew they'd have no luck taking on the state and decided to try and get some quick cash out a Google. Nice try.
  • Loser pays (Score:3, Insightful)

    by leviramsey (248057) * on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:20PM (#8624467) Journal

    The mental midget known as Mark Maughan, who has only been a member of his local CPA association for about a year, is just out to get some easy cash by trying to make it more expensive for Google to fight him in court. CPAs normally make ass-loads of money, so I guess he must be really crappy at his job if he needs the money this badly.

  • by Baldorg (758327) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:20PM (#8624474)
    People will now find out the horrible things he does to animals during his free time...
  • While (Score:3, Informative)

    by jeffkjo1 (663413) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:21PM (#8624482) Homepage
    While I think this is a bogus lawsuit, I have a fairly good guess as to what he is refering to.

    In google search results, the brief clip of information below the link is often snippets of 3 or 4 different sentences (to show you that all of your requested words did in fact show up."

    I'm going to hazard a guess that Mr. Maughan's result looked something like "Mark... Maughan... And Associates have... not paid their taxes... practice without a license... eat babies."

    If that's what this is about... hes god a point...
  • Loser Pays... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ndykman (659315) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:23PM (#8624506)
    I think it may be time for the US to seriously consider implementing a "Loser Pays" system in civil court. Basically, if you, as a lawyer, pursue what is found to be suit with insufficient legal merit, then you are liable for all the costs of the case, including the other sides fees, plus any penalty the court finds suitable.

    If you as a lawyer don't believe that a case has merit, but the client wants to pursue the case, the lawyer can draw up a contract noting that the client has been advised that consuel believes the case does not have merit, and that they, the client, will bear the liability for all costs and penalties in the case.

    The first thing that happens in a civil suit is that it is analyzed for merit, and if it found lacking, liability and fines are assessed.

    Basically, it takes the profit motive for pursuing crappy cases out of the system. Why shouldn't lawyers pursue any case? Money is money.

    And this still allows for anybody to pursue a case, but they have to assume the costs if the lawyer doesn't find any merit to the case.
    • Re:Loser Pays... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by torokun (148213) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:21PM (#8624826) Homepage
      Firstly, the rhetoric about litigiousness is hype. The rhetoric about overly high damage awards however, describes a real problem.

      Secondly, there is a trade-off between innovation in law and the loser-pays system. It's recognized that novel legal approaches are rarely taken in countries where the loser pays. It just makes sense that not only those with poor cases, but also those with good cases based on new interpretations or new law will be wary of bringing suit in such a system.

      The U.S. is the only common law country without a loser-pays rule, but it is also recognized that such legal innovation, when eventually adopted in other common law countries, usually happens here first due to this issue.

    • Re:Loser Pays... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by adamjone (412980) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:40AM (#8625237) Homepage
      The loser pays system has advantages, but it can be abused just as easily as the current system. Plaintiffs with a valid case will be a bit gunshy about bringing their case against a major corporation. If they are lucky enough to find a lawyer willing to take the case and assume the risk, there is still the off chance that they could lose the case and be assigned enormous fees. Companies with plenty of resources would be encouraged to fight all court cases under this system, as they would incur minimal court costs in a loss, and could possibly profit from a win.
    • Re:Loser Pays... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JInterest (719959) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @01:54AM (#8625605)

      I think it may be time for the US to seriously consider implementing a "Loser Pays" system in civil court. Basically, if you, as a lawyer, pursue what is found to be suit with insufficient legal merit, then you are liable for all the costs of the case, including the other sides fees, plus any penalty the court finds suitable.

      IAAL, and you seem a little confused as to what a "Loser Pays" system is.

      A "loser pays" system is one in which the losing litigant, not the lawyer for the litigant, pays the attorney's fees and court costs of the prevailing side. This is also known as "fee-shifting".

      Such a system seems to have an intrinsic appeal to certain people, particularly to those who really don't understand how the U.S. legal system works.

      The U.S. legal system is a combination of statutes and judge-made law. A large amount of U.S. law is judge-made, particularly in the area of tort, and new legal theories and new causes of action are an important part of the development of that kind of law.

      Right now, U.S. citizens enjoy a liberal civil justice system in which any person may make a claim in good faith. The price for that system is that there are some who will abuse it.

      A general "loser pays" approach would of course stifle that process of creating new law. It can be argued that is appropriate, since legislation should be the prerogative of legislatures. However, with more and more legislators coming from non-legal backgrounds, and the increasing nastiness and contentiousness of politics, statutes are becoming more complex and often require interpretation, which means that somebody, somewhere, has to make certain arguments about matters for which there isn't any precedent as of yet. Judge-made law is thus unavoidable, if only as a matter of interpretation.

      So you see, a "loser pays" system creates a problem. We already have laws that allow recoveries against people who file meritless lawsuits or who prosecute an action in bad faith. But if the U.S. legal system had always employed a "loser pays" approach, many legal decisions that we now take for granted could never have happened; for instance, the NAACP would have been bankrupted by their many losses long before Brown v. Board of Education.

      Now in reading the post I am responding to, I cannot help but think that the poster operates under the misconception that attorneys have some crystal ball that allows them to know whether a client has a meritorious case when the client comes in and hires the attorney, prior to the conduct of discovery or a hearing or anything else. You wouldn't want an attorney have to prejudge YOUR case, I assure you. An attorney is a hired expert, not a judge or jury. It is clients that drive litigation, not attorneys. The litigiousness of U.S. society is a direct result of both the increasing assumption of power by the judicial branch, which encourages the seeking of judicial rather than legislative or private solutions to social problems, and the expansion of legislation of all kinds that began in the mid-20th century, a result of a "progressive" mindset that sees legislation/State coercion as the solution to persistent human problems. More law makes more litigation, it's just that simple.

      Yes, the fact that there are so many attorneys in the U.S. now, and that they are all hungry for work, means that litigants have far more access to our overburdened courts than they used to. But the reason that there are so many more attorneys is that the policy of the courts and state governments has been to increase competition in the legal services field in the public interest. There are more law schools than there once were. Various court decisions going back to the '60's prohibited minimum fee schedules, non-compete agreements, and other anti-competitive practices between lawyers.

      I am not saying that there shouldn't be reform, but a universal "loser pays" system is a cure that is worse than the disease. Eliminating conti

  • by Cyph (240321) <yoonix.speakeasy@net> on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:28PM (#8624539)
    When you search google for his company name [google.com], the first hit it comes up with shows the following for the description:


    Disciplinary Actions List - Bi-Bz ... Surrender of license accepted. Effective July 1, 1993. BROWN & MAUGHAN,
    AN ACCOUNTANCY CORPORATION (COR 2529). MAUGHAN, MARK G. (CPA 38184) ...


    The reason he is suing is because "Surrender of license accepted." is shown in the description, while it actually is carried over from a section on the page which doesn't refer to his company. Though if you view the page you'll see that the company is actually on probation for 3 years. The site linked to is actually http://www.dca.ca.gov. Now, apparently, this guy thinks that if Google sampled some of the results on the page, and accidentally showed that, Google is somehow responsible for libel.

    Personally, I think he's insane, but I can see his position on this because it does look misleading. I just hope he doesn't win anything.
    • Finally, someone posted something that explains what this suit is about.

      I can see why this guy would be peeved about the way his company is listed in Google, but shouldn't he just try to outrank that page with his own site? He needs to have some other sites link to his and increase its popularity so that it pushes that government site's listing down a bit.

      Perhaps he could counter by having a page on his own site that explains why the Google listing is misleading. You know, tell his side of the story.

      Agai
  • by Thedalek (473015) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:28PM (#8624544)
    Googling for my name [google.com] reveals that, in addition to being an avid gamer, I apparantly played Greedo in Star Wars.

    Think I'll sue Lucas for not paying me.
  • Err... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by .com b4 .storm (581701) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:32PM (#8624587)
    I'm not all that familiar with libel in legal terms, so here are a couple of questions I had off the top of my head - can you sue someone for the results of a mathematical equation? After all, PageRank is basically glorified statistics and mathematical wizardry. Furthermore, is it "libel" if a computer produces results based on mere data? Doesn't some human have to be involved in making the "statements" about someone for it to be considered libel?
  • Tough Luck (Score:3, Informative)

    by tiny69 (34486) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:34PM (#8624595) Homepage Journal
    http://www.dca.ca.gov/cba/discipline/bi-bz.htm [ca.gov]

    For purposes of settlement, Respondent admits the truth and accuracy of the allegations and charges in the Accusation. Respondent and his accountancy corporation engaged in the practice of public accounting with expired licenses.

    Respondent additionally failed to pay an administrative fine imposed by the Board for failing to supply the Board with copies of a financial report representing the highest level of service rendered, in accordance with Section 89.1 of the California Code of Regulations. Respondent's failure to pay the administrative fine caused the Board to withhold renewal of his CPA license.

    He broke the law by practicing with an expired license, failed to pay fines, and is now now suing search engines because the information was posted on the internet by the state of California. That's his own damn fault. People need to learn to live with the consequences and take responsibility for their actions.

  • Jokes on him... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fltsimbuff (606866) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:38PM (#8624624) Homepage
    Everyone should look at this as a lesson.

    Talk about bad things being said about him... He just gave everything credence by bringing up those ridiculous lawsuits. At the end of the day, he is going to look 10 times worse than the Google results alone could make him appear... Add to that, that it is going to be much more widely known?

    I mean, honestly... Does this guy think that the slim chance of getting lots of cash out of these companies is really worth the REAL damage this is going to do to him and his company?

    Lawyers that represent frivelous lawsuits are scummy... The People that hire the lawyers are scummier.

  • by randomwalker (758064) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:40PM (#8624637)
    When google gives wrong info on me(other people have same name), i just add their stuff to my resume.
    I gained a dance school and a few civil war books in my resume experiences.
  • by fiumisporchi (763950) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @10:54PM (#8624707)
    It doesn't seem like he will have much success if Bloggers [wired.com] can't be sued for libel. Note this paragraph:
    The court based its decision on a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, or the CDA. That section states, "... no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Three cases since then -- Zeran v. AOL, Gentry v. eBay and Schneider v. Amazon -- have granted immunity to commercial online service providers.
    Point, set, match, google.
  • by Galvatron (115029) on Saturday March 20, 2004 @11:00PM (#8624733)
    I'm not sure about all of the charges, but the California Board of Accountancy does list the disciplinary action for practicing with an expired license [ca.gov]. This is the first Google result for "Mark Maughan CPA" (without quotes). So as far as I can tell, the information DOES appear on the state board site, contraditing the article.

    At first, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I have seen results before where it takes search terms from different parts of the page, and gives a misleading summary:
    ...blah blah blah blah blah blah Mike...
    ...Maughan punished for gross negligence...

    Even though the linked article might be talking about Mike Smith and Fred Maughan. I can see how something like that could be damaging to someone's reputation, and Google might want to change the way it presents summaries. But since the "offending information" actually does appear on the Board website, I'm not sure how Google is supposed to be responsible.
  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @12:06AM (#8625081)
    IANAL but isn't there many precedents where courts have ruled against him. For example, the Supreme Court:
    New York Times Co vs Sullivan [findlaw.com]

    In this case, it is well known that Google is a search engine that finds information on somebody else's website.

  • You know... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @01:08AM (#8625382)
    If he was any good at what he did, he wouldn't need to sue Google for money.
  • Why the Libel not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mulletproof (513805) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @01:10AM (#8625395) Homepage Journal
    Honestly, if you can sue P2P "search engines" for finding music in which they ultimately do not control who downloads or not, why not sue a normal search engine for all the pirated material, warez and serialz? Why not sue them for libel since they're propagating false and slanderous information while you're at it?

    It's always a riot to see hypocrisy and lawsuit abuse come head to head. What a wonderful standard the RIAA has set for us.

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. -- James Michener, "Space"

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