High Court rules Google not publisher in crucial search engine win

Google has won a crucial battle in the High Court over whether it is a publisher.

The search engine has been locked in a battle with Melbourne lawyer George Defteros since 2016.

Mr Defteros successfully sued Google in 2020 for $40,000 after it refused to remove a hyperlink to a newspaper article he called defamatory.

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The article focused on how Mr Defteros was charged in 2004 with conspiring and instigating the murder of underworld figures, including Carl Williams.

But those charges were dropped in 2005.

An earlier Supreme Court of Victoria ruling in 2020 found the internet giant was a publisher and defamed Mr Defteros.

But Google took the case to the High Court, arguing that it was just a browser and not a content publisher, comparing itself to a telephone company that merely facilitated calls.

“A hyperlink only communicates that something exists or where it exists,” Google’s submissions said.

“It is the operator of the web page who communicates the content to the user. »

But lawyers for Mr. Defteros said Google was an active participant.

“The Google search engine is not a passive tool, such as the facility provided by a telephone company,” Mr. Defteros’ comments argued.

“The provision of the hyperlink only facilitated access”

However, today the High Court ruled with a majority in support of Google’s argument, finding that the internet giant was not the publisher of the material in question.

“The majority of the court held that the appellant did not render assistance[…]by communicating the defamatory matter contained in the … to third-party users,” the ruling said.

“The provision of a hyperlink in the search result only facilitated access to … and was not an act of participation in the bilateral process of communicating the content of this article to a third party. »

The court said there was no reason to find the publication because Google had no involvement in writing or broadcasting the case as defamatory.

“As there was no publication, the majority found it unnecessary to consider the defenses raised by the appellant,” the court said.

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