or learn more

Panda loss as libel

Jun 12, 2012

This morning I tweeted1 what I thought was a funny comment on the ridiculousness of a litigious society:


After tweeting I thought a little deeper and came to fear the possibilities. Currently, the great comic site is in danger of being sued by a content bottom-feeder FunnyJunk where one of the points of “damage” include:

… causing to come up whenever “funkyjunk” is punched into the Google search engine. … you clearly intended this result.


Ignore that there appears to be a gross misunderstanding about how Google search ranking works nor that this threat against TheOatmeal is a gross reversal of blame. A truly scary possibility is that this may be the opening volley in SEO-related lawsuits.

Imagine if I were to write a blog post about my distaste for Pepsi2 and influential news organizations link to it. At the moment every single link on the first page of Google’s results for “Pepsi” belong to a PepsiCo entity, but what if my post were to replace one of these links? How might PepsiCo feel about this? I have no idea if the company would do something malicious based on such a scenario, but to bring suit against me would be a drop in their vast sea of money — to me it would be devastating financially.

SEO is a fairly well-known practice and companies like PepsiCo have it hammered down; however the possibility always exists that other sites could sneak into search results, and through the power of negativity they’ll likely not be complementary.

Are search rank losses the new libel?


  1. Currently looking for a SEO-friendly name for my litigation venture. 

  2. Pepsi is fine… please don’t sue me! 

5 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Geoff Wozniak

    Worse yet, what if search-engine results are somehow taken to be intellectual property?

    Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but really, not outside the realm of possibility given what I’ve seen in IP-related nonsense.

  2. It seems like search engine results could legitimately be described as “reputation”. So if someone does something that adversely affects them, while including an untrue or contestable statement, it could potentially be considered libelous with general damages associated with loss of reputation applying. Scary if possible. (I’m not a lawyer, just throwing ideas out.)

  3. chives

    Worse yet, what if search-engine results are somehow taken to be intellectual property?

    In a sense, they already are. Google gets DMCA take down notices against search results that infringe on copyright holders works.

    As for the hypothetical start-up idea, though I don’t think it to be in poor taste, you are going to be competing against SEO people who already have market share, just so that you can sell snake oil…

  4. What is even more hilarious about the current predicament that The Oatmeal finds himself in, is that due to his supreme awesomeness – lots of major, highly influential & very powerful websites will link to him; making him rank even better for all manner of phrases, among them funnyjunk!

  5. RogerTheGeek

    The page ranking algorithm is controlled by a private company, so how can anyone say that a change in their page rank is due to an outside party? It seems to be a little odd that an algorithm that is supposed to be generally unknown could be a basis for a value. Google could decide to modify the algorithm at will. Of course, the courts aren’t always logical, but suing someone due to loss of SEO seems sort of absurd. Google could arbitrarily decide to skip the FunnyJunk sites and totally kill their ranking. Would FJ have a case against Google? This is strange, but probably expensive.

Reply to “Panda loss as libel”