Google Warns Of “Devastating” Impact Should A Court Ruling Hold Up

Google Warns Of “Devastating” Impact Should A Court Ruling Hold Up

Google has warned of a likely “devastating” impact on the core functioning of the internet if the High Court doesn’t overturn its decision on defamatory hyperlinks.

As reported on by The Guardian, the courts have ruled that the search giant is liable for defamatory material contained in hyperlinked pages.

In a submission, Google has told the High Court it will be forced to “censor” its search results if a $40,000 defamation damages award to George Defteros goes ahead.

Defteros is a solicitor who represented Melbourne gangland figures like Alphonse Gangitano and Mick Gatto.

He successfully sued Google, having argued that its publication of search results which included a 2004 article in the Age about his arrest on conspiracy to murder charges – which were later dropped – defamed him.

Moreover in 2020, the Victorian supreme court justice Melinda Richards ruled the article had implied Defteros’ crossed a line from a professional lawyer to confidant and friend to criminal elements.

Subsequently, justice Richards ordered Defteros to receive $40,000 in damages.

Defteros’ lawyers had contacted Google in 2016 asking for the article to be removed.

But this request was denied on the basis the Age was a reputable source.

Google’s lawyers told the high court the notice contained “false information” that Defteros had sued the Age in defamation and the Age had agreed to remove it from their website.

Google warned if the court of appeal judgment stands, “Google will be liable as the publisher of any matter published on the web to which its search results provide a hyperlink” after a person complains the matter defamed them – “regardless of the quality” of that notice.

Even if many of those accessing the article had a “legitimate interest” in it, which should enable the defence of qualified privilege, the search engine would be required to block search results for everyone or else be held liable for those accessing it out of “idle curiosity”, Google said.

The tech company argued that it was not a publisher of the material because “a hyperlink is not, in and of itself, the communication of that to which it links”.

Websites should only be liable if the hyperlink “actually repeats the defamatory imputation to which it links”, Google said.

“The inevitable consequence of leaving the court of appeal’s decision undisturbed is that Google will be required to act as censor by excluding any webpage about which complaint is made from its search result.”

Google continued warning that it may have to censor webpages that may be a matter of legitimate interest to searchers.

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