Search engine

High Court asked to decide whether search engine giant Google is a content publisher

Google and Melbourne lawyer George Defteros is set to battle it out in the High Court of Australia over whether the search engine giant is classified as a publisher or not.

Mr Defteros successfully sued Google in 2020 for $40,000 after failing to remove a story he claimed defamed him.

The story was originally published in The Age newspaper and detailed how in 2004 Mr Defteros was charged with conspiring and instigating the murder of underworld figures including Carl Williams.

But in 2005, the charges were dropped.

The original ruling found that the article conveyed the defamatory imputation that the respondent had crossed the line from professional lawyer to, to confidant and friend, criminal elements.

Mr Defteros had reached a mediated settlement with the author and publisher of a book that included a chapter based on The Age article, in 2010.

In 2016, a removal request was made to Google, which still directed searches to the article.

Google declined after it emerged the requesting lawyer had misrepresented the situation, when he said Mr Defteros had sued the Age and agreed to remove the article in the framework of a regulation.

Mr Defteros had not sued the Age and the newspaper had not agreed to retract the article, although it withdrew it in December 2016.

Tribunal to determine whether Google is a browser or an active participant

The High Court will be advised that the common law rules regarding publication are clear.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Google’s submissions to the High Court rejected the claim that the link to the story amounted to a post.

“Just like a modern phone call, where the caller communicates directly with the listener…without publication by the company itself.”

But lawyers for Mr. Defteros said Google was an active participant.

“The Google search engine is not a passive tool, such as that provided by a telephone company,” says Defteros.

Google also argued that it had a qualified privilege defense at common law.

But in their submissions, lawyers for Mr Defteros suggested they would tell the court that the qualified privilege only applied if the person conducting the search had a legitimate interest in the information beyond gossip or curiosity. .

Its lawyers said the common law rules for publication were clear and that there should be no special rules for hyperlink providers.

Both sides referred to the landmark High Court ruling last year which found major media companies were liable for comments posted on their Facebook pages about Northern Territory man Dylan Fly.

Mr Voller’s treatment as an inmate has sparked a royal commission into the Northern Territory’s youth detention system, after footage of him chained to a chair wearing a balaclava emerged from the program Four Corners of the ‘ABC.

Google’s lawyers said the ruling asserted that the process in which a defamatory matter is communicated must be active and voluntary, which they argued was not the case.

But lawyers for Mr Defteros said Google was the publisher under the principles developed by Voller, facilitating and providing a platform, even though it had no intention of communicating the point. defamatory in question.

“The search result prompted the searcher to click on the hyperlink,” Defteros said.

The hearing is expected to last one day.

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