Australia’s Highest Court Rules Google is not a Publisher – Google has won its long-running battle against potentially defamatory online links. The High Court of Australia has concluded that Google was not the publisher of a link to a 2004 story in The Age that allegedly damaged state lawyer George Defteros, who represented persons accused of gangland killings in Melbourne and briefly faced accusations himself. According to The Guardian, five of the seven court justices concluded that the search result link “merely enabled access” to the story – Google had no role in authoring or distributing the information.
The High Court also rejected Defteros’ allegation that search results encouraged people to visit a story. According to the justices, whomever discovered that connection was already looking for related content. Some justices stated that the case might have been different if it had been a sponsored link, but that Google’s appeal did not require a response on the matter.
Defteros sued Google in 2016, accusing the company of defaming him. Google pulled the link in December that year, and lost its initial court fight, but tried to overturn the ruling by arguing that it could have been held liable for the content of any page it linked to — it was worried it would have to “act as censor” for the internet at large. The company didn’t succeed with that first appeal, and in 2020 a Victorian supreme court ordered that Defteros receive $40,000 in damages. Google asked the High Court to intervene in January.
The decision could a wide-ranging impact on internet firms operating in Australia. They might not have to worry that search queries or other automatically-generated links could get them into legal trouble. A complainant would have to show there was a deliberate attempt to promote an unflattering piece.