Google wins defamation battle as Australia’s high court finds tech giant not a publisher

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Australia’s highest court has ruled Google is not a publisher of the websites it links to in search results, finding search engine hyperlinks do not amount to publication.

A majority of high court justices on Wednesday found Google was not the publisher of a defamatory article by the Age about a Victorian lawyer, as it was a search engine that only provided hyperlinks to such content.

“In reality, a hyperlink is merely a tool which enables a person to navigate to another webpage,” a joint statement by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justice Jacqueline Gleeson said.

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What Google v Defteros means for defamation law
In ruling that Google was not the publisher of defamatory material pertaining to an article about a Melbourne lawyer, the High Court has resolved “one piece of the puzzle” in defamation law, while other pertinent questions for defamation law in Australia remain open.

On Wednesday (17 August), the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in Google LLC v Defteros. The outcome, Sydney barrister Matthew Lewis said, is a “common sense” one and a “huge win for Google”.

“Publication is at the heart of defamation law,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

The decision, Thomson Geer partner and media lawyer Marlia Saunders declared, is a “sensible outcome” and “welcome relief”.

High Court finds Google is not a publisher in crucial win for search engine
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 take down a hyperlink to a newspaper article he said was defamatory.

The article was about how Mr Defteros was charged in 2004 with conspiracy and incitement to murder underworld figures, including Carl Williams.

Google scores major win in High Court defamation battle
Google is not legally responsible for defamatory news stories and other material viewed when users click on its non-sponsored search results, the High Court has ruled, in a major victory for the US-based search engine.

On Wednesday the High Court overturned a Victorian Supreme Court decision ordering Google to pay $40,000 in damages to prominent Melbourne criminal lawyer George Defteros for linking to a 2004 article in The Age newspaper.

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