Google Wins Defamation Suit Filed Before Australia’s High Court

Aastha Thakur

Published on August 18th August 2022 at 19:28 IST

In a recent judgement, Australia’s highest court held that Google is not a publisher of the websites given for reference purposes in search results, hence finding search engine hyperlinks do not amount to publication.

The bench hearing the matter after examining the matter give judgement in favor of Google.

The defamation case came before Highest Court in 2021 against the decision of the Victorian Court stating Google was the publisher of a defamatory article by the Age in 2004 because its search results were instrumental in communicating the content to readers.

A joint statement was released by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justice Jacqueline Gleeson stating, “In reality, a hyperlink is merely a tool which enables a person to navigate to another webpage.”

The US-based search engine argued that providing a hyperlink to a story did not amount to publication and it, therefore, could not be liable for any defamatory material contained in the story. Google warned it could be forced to censor its search results if the higher court upheld the court of appeal’s decision, which would have a “devastating” impact on the functioning of the internet.

Five out of seven justices found in Google’s favour, ruling the search engine’s results “merely facilitated access” to the Age’s story, which was not enough to amount to publication in a legal sense.

“There was no other basis for finding publication because the appellant [Google] had not participated in the writing or disseminating of the defamatory matter,” the judgment summary said.

Court rejected the claim of respondent party that search results “enticed” the person searching to open the website, finding a person would already be looking for particular information before the result was received.

Justices James Edelman and Simon Steward both expressed their disappointment as the counsel representating both parties fail to take up the issue to decide whether the conclusion would be different if the hyperlinks were paid to be promoted on Google. However, they agreed that Google “in no way” participated in publishing the article.

Justices Patrick Keane and Michelle Gordon said they would have rejected Google’s appeal.

The case originated from the article by the Age about arrest of appellant charges with conspiracy and incitement and abatement for a murder, although which in due course was withdrawn.

However, the article was not taken down and it gave the detailed version about his arrest on conspiracy and incitement in the matter.

The petitioner feeling his reputation is in danger he sued Google for publishing defamatory article in 2016, 11 years after it was published, but still not removed it until December last year.

In 2020, the Victorian Supreme Court Justice Melinda Richards ruled the article implied that Defteros crossed a line from professional lawyer to confidant and friend of criminal elements and ordered he receive $40,000 in damages.

This finding was upheld by the court of appeal but has now been set aside by the high court.

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