ActivePaper Archive Green light for libel suit over Google search - The Age, 6/14/2018



Green light for libel case After a six-year legal battle, a High Court ruling has meant Milorad ‘‘Michael’’ Trkulja can sue Google for defamation over claims the search engine’s results for his name could indicate he had ties to Melbourne’s criminal underworld.

After being shot in the back in a St Albans restaurant in 2004, Mr Trkulja found Googling ‘‘Melbourne criminal underworld photos’’ showed pictures of him next to photos of underworld characters, and autocomplete searches of his name associated him with terms such as “is a former hit man”, “criminal” and “underworld”. Autocomplete typically pulls up examples of earlier searches.

Mr Trkulja successfully sued the digital giant in 2012 but in 2016 that decision was overturned in the Victorian Court of Appeal. The court ruled Google could not be held responsible for automatically generated online search results, saying search results were incapable of being defamatory.

This has now been overturned, with a High Court ruling yesterday giving Mr Trkulja the green light to sue Google once again. Google’s lawyers previously said search results for underworld figures include crime victims, movie posts and actors and so it would not be rational for someone to think the photos pulled up in a search were of criminals.

John Swinson, a partner with law firm King & Wood Mallesons, did not think the case would have a significant impact on Google’s operations though it would prompt debate about who is responsible for the content on digital platforms broadly.

“The question yet to be answered is whether Google is the primary publisher or the secondary publisher. If it’s the secondary publisher, it likely wouldn’t be liable,” Mr Swinson said.

“This opens up a discussion about the responsibilities of the social media and search platforms and their roles, but it has prompted more questions than answers – like, is Google a publisher? The High Court didn’t close the door on the case but said there needs to be more analysis and facts. It brings the issue of who is responsible to the forefront,” he said.

University of Western Australia law school senior lecturer and consultant at defamation litigation firm Bennett + Co Michael Douglas said other Australians had sued the digital giant for defamation in the past.

“Being able to sue Google isn’t anything new but it might give lawyers a bit more swagger with bringing these cases against [the platform],” Mr Douglas said.

A Google spokesman said it would “continue to defend the claim”.

Google has been ordered to pay Mr Trkulja’s costs.

With AAP