A defamation decision that went against Google in Australia and also against British judgments will create uncertainty among ISPs, online news providers and bloggers.
The decision could be followed in numerous jurisidictions and will create a major rethink among many online news and commentary providers, including major ISPs and of course search engines like Google. The ruling judge held that Google was similar to a newspaper publisher in the offline world. The defence of 'innocent dissemination' could only be applied if the search engine had taken steps to take down the offending material.
An Australian man charges the company with defaming him after search results for his name potentially link him to mobsters.
An Australian court today ordered Google to pay 200,000 Australian dollars ($208,760) to Milorad Trkulja for showing search results that might have caused users to link him to mobsters.
Trkulja, an entertainment promoter, was shot in the back in 2004. After that shooting, Google search results related to his name referenced organized crime. Trkulja's attorney requested the links be removed from Google's search in 2009, saying that they were "grossly defamatory."
In court, a jury agreed with Trkulja, saying that although Google didn't own the links potentially tying Trkulja with organized crime figures, the company was responsible for displaying them. Judge David Beach, who ordered the fine, also agreed with the jury, arguing that Google is the "publisher" of search results, and therefore, should be held liable.
"Google is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article," Beach wrote in his judgement, according to the AFP. "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."
The judge's order could potentially be a major issue for Google. By ruling that the company is responsible for any incorrect information that might be shared on its search results, the judge has established a precedent that could invite more lawsuits.
That issue of precedence also might have contributed to Google's loss. According to the AFP, Trkulja previously sued Yahoo on the same grounds and won 225,000 Australian dollars for that alleged violation.