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Google loses Australian defamation case after court rules that it is accountable as a publisher

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Google has fought in courtrooms around the world in recent years, arguing that it is not responsible for the content in its search results, and this month it lost a battle in Australia. The Supreme Court of Victoria ruled on November 12th that Google is responsible for having published search results leading to a defamatory page which contained rumors that Michael Trkulja, a music promoter, was linked to murder and organized crime. Google argued, as it has in the past, that it's not responsible for offensive material that other people host on the web — a defense that's been met with mixed results internationally. In January, a French court fined Google and ordered it to change unfavorable search results that linked a French insurance company to the words "crook" and "con man" in autocomplete results.

The Supreme Court of Victoria was not impressed by Google's argument, and found that Google met the requirements of a "publisher" under Australia's Defamation Act. The ruling diverges from the outcome of previous cases, in which other Australian judges found that Google was not a publisher but an "internet intermediary" — but the judge in the Trkulja case says that "it is, with respect, doubtful that the same description can be applied to an internet search engine provider in respect of material produced as a result of that search engine." The judge agrees with the plaintiff in the case, saying that while Google's search product is the result of computer programs, those programs were written by human beings who controlled their behavior. The court has awarded Trkulkja $200,000 in damages in the case, which nearly doubles his haul for internet defamation — he won a suit against Yahoo earlier this year over the same defamatory material, receiving $225,000 in that case.