Google is not obligated to ensure websites are free from defamatory content before displaying links to them in search results, Germany's highest court ruled on Tuesday.
The case, which comes in the context of debate about the so-called "right to be forgotten", had been brought by two individuals seeking Google to prevent its search engine from displaying links to websites on which they were verbally attacked by other internet users.
They wanted Google, a unit of Alphabet, to set up search filters to keep those websites from appearing in future search results, information about the users who had posted the offending comments and payment of damages, saying Google was partly responsible for the violation of their rights.
The German Federal Court of Justice said, however, that a search engine operator need only take action if it is notified of a clearly recognisable violation of individuals' rights, rather than checking ahead of time whether the content complies with the rules.
"Instituting a general duty to inspect the content would seriously call into question the business model of search engines, which is approved by lawmakers and wanted by society," the court said in a statement.
"Without the help of such search engines it would be impossible for individuals to get meaningful use out of the internet due to the unmanageable flood of data it contains," it added.
In May 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled that people could ask search engines, such as Google and Microsoft's Bing, to remove inadequate or irrelevant information from web results appearing under searches for people's names - dubbed the "right to be forgotten".
Google has since received requests for the removal of more than 2.4 million website links and accepted about 43 percent of them, according to its transparency report.
© Thomson Reuters 2018