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Google Found Guilty of Libel For Search Results In Australia 223

Meshach writes "Google has been found guilty for refusing to take down a libelous search result in an Australian court (ruling). Music promoter Milorad Trkulja sued Google for refusing to take down links to website articles promoting libelous claims that Trkulja was connected to organized crime in Melbourne. Google told Trkulja to contact the sites on which the offensive materials were posted, as those webmasters controlled the content. But the Supreme Court of Victoria decided Google was responsible for removing the damaging links the moment Trkulja asked them to remove the content. As a result of the jury's decision in the case, Google will have to pay $200,000 in damages to Trkulja."
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Google Found Guilty of Libel For Search Results In Australia

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  • by ilikenwf ( 1139495 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:13PM (#42110713)
    Well, in terms of speech anyway. I don't think this would fly in the US unless some other corporate behemoth was the victim of the libel.
    • I read somewhere that the US had >70% of the world's lawyers, despite having less than 5% of the world's population, so I guess you'd be right then!
    • Seriously, when are US-based companies going to stop making themselves liable by having employees in foriegn countries? Just base everyone in the USA and employ local resellers for the ads. Problem solved.

    • The US free speech rules also don't allow you to say whatever the heck you want either. Libel is a civil case brought about between two parties and exists as much in the USA (more so given the amount of lawyers) as it does in Australia. Free Speech is a constitutional right that protects you from prosecution by the government.

      The two are independent and you can bet your arse that if Google decided to run on the front page "Larry Page is a homosexual" on the front page the courts would not like it either.

      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        you can bet your arse that if Google decided to run on the front page "Larry Page is a homosexual" on the front page the courts would not like it either.

        First, I don't think that the courts would really care if Google said their founder was gay or not. Page might, especially if he wasn't and/or was in the closet about it. And it would be a case between Page and his company.

        Regardless though, Google isn't saying "Larry Page is a homosexual". Google is more like saying "The website []

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:13PM (#42110723) Homepage Journal

    can I sue Slashdot for libel? The bastards incorrectly put "Troll" and "Flamebait" next to my posts.

    • If being a troll or flamer was actually a serious crime, of which you were being falsely accused, and the Slashdot page concerned came up as a top link when searching for your name, then maybe... :)

    • You can sue anyone you like, but they'll only remove a comment if it's about Scientology.

      Fuck Scientology. Clambake frauds...

  • Chilling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:16PM (#42110759)

    So, if you file a claim with Google -- probably not even under oath -- stating that certain content is libel, Google would then have to take down their links to the content, lest the Australian courts find that content to be libel and hold Google liable.

    Which means that if you have access to the Australian courts, you can effectively cause Google to take down any website* without a trial, at little risk to yourself.

    Good to know.

    * Note: Anonymous Coward is not liable for damages incurred in the event that you attempt to take down a website owned by people with more money than you.

    • No. Australian courts, state or federal, do not claim jurisdiction outside Australia. Only web pages that affect Australians in Australia have the potential for defamation (local term - includes libel and slander by any media) and only Australian citizens or permanent residents may apply to the courts. The initial application would be for an injunction against the publisher (a take-down notice). It is not easy to get an injunction. A refusal to obey the injunction would lead to a civil case for defamat

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:19PM (#42110787)

    Clearly this isn't a case of Google doing anything wrong. It's a case of a judge or jury not understanding how the internet works.

    Google doesn't own the content. Unless the individual wants to sue every search provider on the planet to get the results removed, he needs to go after the publisher/owner of the content, and not the search engine.

    There are days that I hope the evil corporations are all destroyed in a revolution. There are other days that I think we are getting exactly what we deserve. Especially when 'educated' folks make decisions like this.

    • Google is like a classifieds newspaper for the internet. If a classified newspaper was told that an ad they're publishing is libellous and they decided to keep publishing the ad, they would likely be held responsible.
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <.mattr. .at.> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:22PM (#42110809) Homepage Journal

    Google probably has the ability to deal with the problem, if it spent money to write some custom code or pattern matching rule. But it sounds like the judges don't understand the Internet or imagine Google could conceivably do the same thing times the number of people in the world who imagine something is libelous at some time in their lives. I don't get what was wrong with what Google told him to do. Is there no higher court in Australia? Or does Google maybe want to wait a while for the society to change in its favor before testing it.

    • Good post, and I agree, though should point out that this was a jury trial and so the jurors bear some of the responsibility as well here. I think it's a case of old law being applied to the letter, to a new medium to which it is unsuited. Not so much the judge not understanding the net - but at the end of the day they have to apply the law as it exists.

      The Supreme Court is the highest court in Victoria, but if they can find a point of law to appeal on, Google could appeal to a Federal court (I.e. the High

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      I don't get what was wrong with what Google told him to do.

      They are supplying the information on their site, under their domain name. Sure, they are only re-publishing it from some other source, but they actually do publish it (and not just link to it - summaries and previews come to mind).

      That's roughly comparable to a newspaper posting a letter-to-the-editors that is libel. They can be told to refrain from publishing it, even though they didn't write it themselves.

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      What isn't clear from the articles what is the sequence here. And sequence matters, a lot.

      If a court ruled that the content was libelous and needs to be taken down *then* the person contacted google and asked them to remove the offending links, and they said no, then I see the sense in the ruling.

      If the person requested they remove allegedly libelous content and they said no, talk to the content providers that's a different problem.

      Google should be (isn't, but should be) and honest broker of information. T

    • I bet that just finding the server that the content is cached on among the millions of servers Google has would require some sort of debug mode to operate on their main search engine which would require them to more than double their server power overnight. Just ask Linus Torvalds if the linux kernel was witched to debug mode with full verbose logging, how much performance penalty it would have
      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        The easy answer is to just refuse to answer any queries that include his name or e-mail address...or can otherwise be linked to him in any way, such as being posted from a computer which he is using.

        Possibly they could return a page merely stating "Trkulja is under the ban".

        I doubt that there would ever be any need to remove the ban. "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." is the way I normally see it phrased.

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:27PM (#42110859) Journal
    How can Google be responsible for content that it's just indexing and not generating themselves? The site owner and/or content owner are responsible for libelous statements. By their "logic", /. could also be held liable just for reporting on this!
    • Re:Rediculous. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:39PM (#42110987)

      > How can Google be responsible for content that it's just indexing and not generating themselves?

      Because they've shown that they will take links down.
      First it was "malware" and/or "phising" sites...
      Then Scientology.
      Then DMCA requests for linking to pirated whatever.

      Sorry, but Google didn't have a defense for why they shouldnt take the links down when they've proven that they are willing to take other links down. It basically came down to "we'll do it for others, but we dont want to do it for this guy."

    • Re:Rediculous. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:22PM (#42111365)

      Read the judgement. Of particular relevance, the paragraphs beginning with paragraph 18. If they WERE just linking, then it would not be publication and they would not have been found guilty. But in this case, they were generating content themselves (under the legal definition, at least...)

  • I am particularly amused by these types of decisions requiring a third party to correctly guess the outcome of legal matters they are not a party or face some form of liability either way for guessing wrongly.

    Do they have book stores in Australia? Does this same abstraction of guilt work there too or just against huge companies with deep pockets?

    What about networks thru which this data flows? Can network operators be found guilty for conspiracy to propogate libel? Where does it end and why?

    I wish google

    • Soviet Republic of Australia

      One poor decision does not invalidate the entire system. Google will either get this decision overturned or the industry itself will get the law changed, it may take a few years but this decision won't stand the test of time.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      I am not a lawyer:
      Do they have book stores in Australia? Does this same abstraction of guilt work there too or just against huge companies with deep pockets?
      Australian law is sort of based on UK law.
      If you not in jail, have been to jail or lost a company you have control of... you are safe from slander.
      The proof is on the person making the claims and can be taken to court.
      As for ' Does this same abstraction of guilt work there too or just against huge companies with deep pockets?"
      Most Australian autho
  • As they did not shut down the electricity at the offending site. And since they also power the monitors and light here where I read it, double damages.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's not Google's link to the content but Google Cache repoducing and redistributing the 'libelous' content.

    • Google should respond that they've dutifully hit F5, and the cache is now current.
      • Except hitting F5 would produce a 404 page not found as the original website took it down on request. So Google should respect 404s and remove the data.

  • Google knows that its business is going to get a lot harder if they actually have to take some responsibility for the information they disseminate.

    They can't just cache everyone's content, scan it, link it - make billions of dollars off of it - and then tell someone else to shove it when they are asked not to distribute illegal content.

  • Once Google started manually fucking with the results and rankings, they became responsible for the content as they were no longer simply a passive repository.

  • The reason the internet revolution did not originate in Australia.
  • 1) Create a web presence.

    2) Have a sock monkey libel you

    2a) (Google indexes the libelous site, as they do everything.)

    3) Sue Google

    4) $$Profit!!

    • I was going to post exactly this.

      This seems like it would be incredibly easy to set up?

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      I don't know what legal bills are in Australia, but I suspect that he isn't going to see much of that $200,000.

  • Shakedown

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein