A judge in Australia this week ordered Google to pay $208,000 ($200,000 in Australian dollars) to a man who accused the company of defaming him with search results that associated him with crime organizations. The man, 62-year-old Milorad Trkulja, first confronted Google in 2009, five years after he was shot at a restaurant in an unsolved crime. Subsequent searches for Trkulja's name turned up many results that associated him with Australian mobsters and organized crime operations, with some sites claiming he was shot as part of a professional hit.
Trkulja's lawyers asked Google to take action against this "grossly defamatory content" in October 2009, and eventually brought their case to the Supreme Court of Victoria. Google denied any wrongdoing, claiming it was simply pointing to material that others had published, and arguing that its search results took Trkulja's claims of defamation into account, as well. The jury disagreed, however, determining on October 31st that Google should have acted after being notified by Trkulja's legal team.
Equating Google with newsstands
Trkulja won a defamation case against Yahoo concerning the same incident earlier this year, though this month's victory could have significant implications for Google, which has faced similar lawsuits in France and Germany. 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.
"Google Inc. is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article," Beach said. "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."
Google, meanwhile, insists that it shouldn't be held responsible for material published by others, and is reportedly considering an appeal. "Google's search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web," the company said in a statement. "The sites in Google's search results are controlled by those sites' webmasters, not by Google."