Google has once again fallen victim to a defamation proceeding in Australia as a result of its search engine.
In Trkulja v. Google LLC, , Michael Trkulja claimed that Google’s publishing of images likening him to a ‘hardened and serious criminal in Melbourne,’ and its algorithm for autocorrected (or suggested) search queries furthering this likening were defamatory in nature. Google brought a motion to set aside the claim on the basis that: (1) it is not a publisher; (2) the search results were not defamatory to the Plaintiff; and (3) Google is entitled to immunity from the action for public policy reasons.
After being overturned at the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Australia restored the original decision of the Motion Court in favour of Trkulja. The High Court held that in line with the motion court judge’s ruling and reasoning, an ordinary reasonable person viewing the search results could perceive them to link Trkulja with the Melbourne criminal underworld, and thus could convey defamation. The High Court also agreed with the motion court’s judge in that Google did publish the alleged defamatory results vis-à-vis their “intentional participation in the communication of the allegedly defamatory results to Google search engine users.”
The decision follows a recent Australian decision against Google where they were also held accountable for defamation resulting from their search indexing practices, and shows the courts willingness to hold the tech giant accountable in their role as one of the Internet’s most important gatekeepers.