Looks like Google is going to be facing some legal action in Australia. This week, a judge in the land down under ordered Google to pay $208,000 in damages to a man who accused the company of defaming him with search results that associated him with crime organizations.
The alleged victim, 62-year-old Milorad Trkulja, originally approached Google in 2009, five years after he was shot at a restaurant in an unsolved crime. Trkulja claims that various searches of his name turns up many results that associate him to Australian mobsters and organized crime operations. Some sites go as far as claiming his shooting was part of a professional hit. Either way Trkulja’s lawyers asked Google to take action against this “grossly defamatory content” in October 2009, however, Google dismissed their request. Trkulja’s legal team then eventually brought the case to the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Google has denied any wrongdoing, claiming that their search does not generate the material but rather collects informaton that has been published by third party sites who’s views do not represent the search giant. Google has argued that its search results took Trkulja’s claims of defamation into account as well. Following the trial, however, the jury disagreed and that Google should have acted after being notified by Trkulja’s legal team. In his ruling, Judge David Beach defended the jury’s decision, equating Google with libraries or newsstands, which can sometimes be held liable under Australia’s defamation laws.
In his final statement, Judge Beach said:
“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.”
Interestingly enough, Trkulja won a defamation case against Yahoo concerning the same incident earlier this year. Google has already appealed the ruling and hopes to prove it can’t be responsible for the content their search engine returns.