Australia: Google condemned for libel by the Supreme Court of Victoria

Victoria’s Supreme Court, in its initial findings, condemned Google Inc. on November 12th 2012 for having reproduced information judged to be defamatory in its natural referencing service.

The plaintiff, Milorad Truklja, a show organizer, had made the headlines in Australian papers after shots were fired at him in a Melbourne restaurant in 2004.

Reporting this event, numerous press reports implied that he was linked to the world of organized crime. In addition, these reports provided links to the site “Melbourne Crime”, specialized in the recording of violent acts purportedly carried out by organized crime.

Google was implicated by the fact that, upon entering the name of the plaintiff in the search engine, the first three pages systematically provided links to articles and images associating him with organized crime.

Milorad Truklja therefore sent a letter of notification to Google asking them to modify the search results.

Having received no reply from Google, he lodged a complaint for defamation with the Court at Victoria.

In their defense, Google submitted that they cannot be held responsible for content generated automatically by a robot. They insisted on the fact that the process is fully automated and requires no human intervention.

Both jury and judge refuted this argument based on their capacity as editors (relating to the law of criminal infringement by the Australian press). The Court insisted on the fact that in Australian law, the mere intention to publish content is sufficient to qualify as defamation. Viewed in this way, the judge stipulated, Google did effectively intend to publish this content, just as a newsagent would do and therefore they were declared guilty of an act of defamation.