Google Found Guilty of Libel Over Search Results

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Illustration for article titled Google Found Guilty of Libel Over Search Results

A big hole has been punctured in Google's usual defence against libel, with an Australian court throwing out the search giant's argument that it's just a listing tool. All because it didn't remove a link to an incorrect web site.

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The Australian case covers a chap called Milorad Trkulja, who asked a web site to remove content believed to be libellous regarding false allegations of local organised involvement, also requesting Google remove all links to it from its search results. It was at this point that the Australian court found Google guilty of libel, after the search giant refused to remove links to the offending article.

Google's been fined the equivalent of $200,000 for the infringement, but is appealing the decision. The Australian judge seems to be a little sympathetic toward Google's argument, explaining in the verdict that it was the jury's decision to find it guilty, because:

The jury were entitled to conclude that Google Inc intended to publish the material that its automated systems produced, because that was what they were designed to do upon a search request being typed into one of Google Inc's search products. In that sense, Google Inc is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article. While there might be no specific intention to publish defamatory material, there is a relevant intention by the newsagent to publish the newspaper for the purposes of the law of defamation.

So Google's not the newspaper, just the automated newsagent. But is still guilty anyway because it developed the software to work that way. A pretty worrying new way of looking at Google's indexing of the web. [Supreme Court of Victoria via Mashable]

Image by AP


Illustration for article titled Google Found Guilty of Libel Over Search Results

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DISCUSSION

No, Google isn't "like the newsagent that sells a newspaper." What horrible reasoning. Was Google "selling" this site to the public, or merely providing a link to it on the request of an individual performing who entered a search term? They are more in the role of librarian in this case. The user asks for a list of suggested reading materials on a certain subject, and they produce those materials. It is not for them to adjudicate the legal status of a website which doesn't belong to them, the content of which has not even been subject to scrutiny in a courtroom. How can the outcome of this case be anything other than an attempt to compel Google and other search providers to become extrajudicial arbiters of the legality of online content? It reeks of what content-providers represented by the MPAA, RIAA, and others would love for the world's ISPs to become. They want the legal status of content to be determined by the fear of prosecution among a relative handful of online bottlenecks such as major ISPs or search engines, as opposed to judges and juries in courts of law.