Google Loses Australian Defamation Case, Awaiting Decision On Damages

google-australia-200pxGoogle is awaiting a judge’s decision on damages before it decides what to do after losing a defamation case over its search results in Australia.

A jury in the supreme court of the Australian state Victoria, ruled Tuesday that Google is liable for defamation because its search results connected the plaintiff, 62-year-old Milorad Trkulja, to phrases such as “Melbourne crime” and showed his photo near images of suspected members of Melbourne’s organized crime scene.

It’s a complicated and strange case that the BBC details well. In short, my summary would go like this:

  • the plaintiff was shot at a restaurant in 2004
  • the crime remains unsolved today, but was originally thought to be linked to organized crime (thus the name “Gangland” is being used to describe the case)
  • due to media coverage of the incident, including on a website named “Melbourne Crime,” the plaintiff’s name and image were showing up in Google search results and image search results in a way that appeared to connect him to organized crime
  • the plaintiff used Google’s form to have content from other websites removed from its search index, but failed to provide the URL of the content that he was objecting to

Because of that last point, the Victorian jury ruled Google not liable for its web search results. But it did find Google guilty of defamation because of its image search results, which remained unchanged after the plaintiff’s request. The jury found that Google should have removed those search results when it received Trkulja’s complaint.

The judge is expected to rule on damages in the next couple weeks. A Google spokesperson tells us the company will wait for that decision before deciding its next steps. Google could appeal the decision.

Trkulja had previously won a similar case against Yahoo, which was ordered to pay about $250,000 (USD) in damages.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Images | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Google: Web Search | Legal: Censorship | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • natfinn

    H’mmmmm. That could open the floodgates.

  • http://twitter.com/pswebsitedesign PS Website Design

    Yeah you’re not kidding!

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.nathaniel.bailey Nathaniel Bailey

    “Trkulja had previously won a similar case against Yahoo, which was ordered to pay about $250,000 (USD) in damages.” sounds like these guys are just out to get the search engines!

    I guess the likes of google, bing and others will have to monitor what’s include in their image searches from now on so they don’t have to pay any more fines for people getting images to rank well in the results?!

    Or maybe Trkulja should just ask the world to forget about the freedom of speech so only facts can be published on google? What if I get an image of a bank robber to rank for Trkulja, would they then sue google or even me?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/max.hoglund.13 Max Hoglund

    I agree with the previous comments. This could give the wrong people ideas.

  • Alan

    So no matter what happens freedom of speech should win out? So someones child gets murdered and those pictures appear in a search and that is fine. If Google is asked to take them down and doesn’t that is fine?

    that is an extreme case but the principle is the same. Google is allowed to do what it does and make it’s billions because it abides by a code of practice. Google is now more than ever flouting those codes of practice and this is just one more example of a company that doesn’t give a dam about the people it hurts.

    From all reports this guy isn’t the most upstanding citizen but there is another right that people have that easily trumps free speech and that is “Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” Innocent until proven guilty!

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.nathaniel.bailey Nathaniel Bailey

    And google haven’t said the guy is guilty or not guilty, people have given their opinion (by the sounds of it) which is what has got this guys image ranking for the terms, which yes google has control over – in that they could remove the image – but its not their fault that people have managed to get google to associate said image’s’ with said search term’s’ so they should not be held liable IMHO.

    Google is a search engine for providing information, they don’t say that all the information provided in googles results is fact, so I don’t see why or how google (or any other search engine) should be held liable for such things?!

    By all means, if this is in fact not true, then I agree google should have the courtesy to help by removing the images from that search term by request, but expecting google to check every single search term anyone could enter – and even know what search terms people will use in the future – and remove images which could be completely wrong would be impossible for any search company to do because this is something that would have to be checked manually.

    Plus think of the floodgates that could open up! For example lets say someone don’t like a news picture of a natural disaster because it has a dead body in the background, do you think google should police that and get that image removed from its listings? No!

    Any way, running off topic a little now lol, but the gist of my argument is google can’t and shouldn’t be expected to police its image results IMO, yes if something is damaging to someone and they request google (or any other SE to remove it) they should look into it for them, but you have to consider the floodgates which could open on this and realise that it could open up a huge task for google in many ways.

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