Australia’s highest court finds Google not liable for defamation

SYDNEY, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Australia’s highest court on Wednesday overturned a ruling that found Google had engaged in defamation by providing a link to a disputed newspaper article, once again shining a spotlight on how online defamation cases are handled in the country.

Australia’s High Court seven-judge panel voted 5-2 to reject an earlier finding that Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) played a role in the publication of the disputed article by acting as a ‘library’ hosting this one, claiming that the website had no active role.

The ruling brings further confusion to a question that has simmered in Australia for years about liability for online defamation. A years-long review of the country’s defamation law has yet to yield a final recommendation on whether big platforms like Meta Platforms’ Google and Facebook should be liable.


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The case stems from a 2004 article that suggested a defense attorney crossed professional lines and became a “confidant” with criminals, according to the published judgment. The attorney, George Defteros, found a link to the story in a 2016 Google search of his name and asked Google to remove it after it was viewed by 150 people, according to the ruling.

Defteros sued in state court that found Google to be a publisher and ordered it to pay it A$40,000 ($28,056). Google appealed the ruling, culminating in Wednesday’s ruling.

“The Underworld article was not written by any employee or agent of the appellant,” two of the panel’s judges wrote in Wednesday’s ruling, the appellant being Google.

“It was written by a journalist unrelated to the appellant and published by an independent newspaper over which the appellant had no control or influence. »

Google “does not own or control the internet,” they wrote.

A Google spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Defteros said in a statement that the process had been “long, time-consuming, expensive and extremely stressful,” but he felt vindicated because the court agreed the article was defamatory even though Google was not responsible.

The decision comes after the High Court last year found a newspaper publisher liable for defamatory comments left under an article he posted on Facebook. read more

The difference between the 2021 Facebook case and Wednesday’s case was that media companies last year “invited and encouraged comments”, while Google “did not provide a forum or place where it might be communicated, nor encouraged to comment in response,” the judges wrote.

($1 = 1.4257 Australian dollars)

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Reporting by Byron Kaye; Edited by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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