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Argentina model fights Google, Yahoo over photo links to porn sites

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 7:21 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Search engines appealing verdict awarded to Argentina model
  • She says her name, photos used to bring people to sex sites
  • Companies claim they cannot control third parties
  • They say model should have brought specific examples

(CNN) -- Attorneys for Google and Yahoo appeared in a Buenos Aires court to respond to accusations that searches on their websites link the name and photos of a popular Argentina model to sexually-oriented websites.

María Belén Rodríguez is suing the search engines, alleging they linked her name with terms like "sex" and "pornography."

Rodríguez told CNN her pictures would be wrongly used mainly in two ways: An unauthorized picture could be used to lure Internet users to an X-rated site, taking advantage of her popularity in Argentina, or within adult websites that contain pornographic images of other people.

Rodríguez, 30, originally sued Google and Yahoo in 2006. After an eight-year legal battle, the case has worked its way up to Argentina's Supreme Court.

In 2010, the model was awarded a combined judgment against both search engines of 120,000 Argentine pesos, almost $15,000. The search engines appealed and a higher court later lowered the amount to about $6,200.

Earlier this week, Rodríguez told CNN the use of her image by sexually-oriented websites has deeply damaged her reputation.

"They have ruined my life and now say that what I'm asking for is censorship. It suits them, but not me. Truthfully for me, having to explain every day that I'm not a prostitute is a daily complication, as simple as that," Rodríguez said.

At the court hearing Thursday, attorneys for Google and Yahoo suggested search engines are neutral platforms that don't create or regulate content on the Internet, and therefore, are not responsible for how the model's image is used by third parties.

Alberto Bueres, an attorney representing Yahoo, said what the plaintiff is asking goes beyond the search engines' capabilities.

"It is technically and economically impossible to before-the-fact monitor millions of pages of content available on the Internet because of their volume and because they constantly change. To argue against this is to favor before-the-fact censorship and to ignore the economic realities," Bueres said.

María Baudino, Google's legal affairs manager for Latin America, suggested the entire lawsuit could have been averted had the plaintiff contacted the search engines directly to complain about specific websites that used her image illegally.

That information, Baudino said, would've allowed Google to act by either blocking the pages or unlinking results related to modeling pictures belonging to Rodríguez.

"In this particular case, there was a consistent and prolonged refusal to identify the content in question," Baudino said. "It's necessary to identify the content by providing URLs in every single case for the simple reason that if they're not identified, neither Google nor anybody else is able to determine what we're talking about."

But Raúl Castex, an attorney representing Rodríguez, said search engines have more power to block content than they were willing to admit in court.

"Search engines can find, with their own, diligently designed techniques, websites linked to child pornography they normally block," Castex said.

He questioned why the search engines can conform with censorship rules in China but cannot protect his client's reputation.

Google attorneys said they index web pages based on more than 200 criteria. Google's transparency report posted online says so far this year the search engine has received more than 100 million requests to block pages that violate copyright laws or are deemed illegal or harmful in other ways.

Rodríguez, who's also an actress and a TV host, is a married mother of two children ages 1 and 3. She's a native of Córdoba, Argentina. Rodríguez is often mistaken by the media for another model from Argentina by the same name who works in Italy.

Rodríguez says the case goes beyond her reputation and honor. She describes her legal battle as a modern David and Goliath fight.

"Let me be clear, first of all, that I want to clear my image," Rodríguez said. "Second, I want a precedent to be set so that this doesn't happen again. I'm in favor of freedom of expression, but not the kind of freedom of expression that is built on lies. I'm an ant fighting against a giant monster."

A ruling by the high court is expected in several weeks.

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