An Australian court overrules a previous ruling that held Google liable for defamation

By TechThop Team

Posted on: 17 Aug, 2022

An Australian court overturned on Wednesday a ruling finding that Google had defamed its online reputation by providing a link to a contested newspaper article, shining light once more on Australia's libel laws.

A seven-judge panel of the High Court of Australia voted 5-2 to overturn an earlier finding that Alphabet was involved with publishing the disputed article by creating a 'library' where it could be stored, stating that the website had no active role in publishing the work.

A question has simmered in Australia for years about where liability lies for online defamation. Libel law is still being reviewed for a final recommendation on whether large platforms like Google and Facebook should be held accountable.

A 2004 article suggested that a criminal defence lawyer had crossed professional lines and became a 'confidant' of criminals. Defteros, a lawyer, discovered the story in a 2016 Google search of his name and had Google remove it after 150 people viewed it.

The lawsuit was filed by Defteros in a state court that had found that Google was a publisher and that it was required to pay Defteros AUD 40,000. As a result, Google appealed the judgment, which culminated in the decision released on Wednesday.

'We have no doubt that the Underworld article was not written by any employee or agent of the appellant,' said two of the panel's judges in Wednesday's ruling, the appellant being Google.

'As I understand it, the article was written by an individual with no connection to the appellant, and published by an independent newspaper over which the appellant had no control or influence.'

He said the process was 'long, drawn out, expensive, and extremely stressful,' but he felt vindicated when the court found the article defamatory even though Google was unliable.

A ruling against a newspaper publisher was handed down by the High Court last year after it found the publisher liable for defamatory remarks left beneath an article posted on Facebook that the publisher had profited from.

A key difference between the 2021 Facebook case and Wednesday's case was that the media companies last year 'invited and encouraged comment'.whereas Google 'did not provide any forum or place for this discussion nor did it encourage responses', according to the judges.

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