Google Finally Wins One Of Those Nutty Defamation Lawsuits Down Under

from the about-time dept

Over the past few years, we’ve written about a series of truly nutty court decisions in Australia that have found Google and Yahoo liable for defamation for certain search results. In writing about it, we’ve seriously angered some of the plaintiffs in those cases, including one who went on a rampage posting a bunch of blatantly made up info about us, apparently thinking they were “proving a point” about how we’d get upset about defamatory material being posted about us. Another, Milorad Trkulja, sent us one of the nuttiest legal threats we’ve ever seen, which was then followed up with an even more ridiculous threat from an Australian lawyer who seemed to not fully understand the legal threats he was making (nor the difference between “drivel” and “dribble.”)

Mr. Trkulja is back in the news, as it seems his luck with the Australian courts has run out. If you don’t recall, the origin of his case was that if you did a Google image search on Australian organized crime, sometimes Trkulja’s own image would show up. Trkulja sued Google and Yahoo over this and (somewhat amazingly) won, with the effective argument being that once Trkulja alerted them to this they should have fixed the search results. There are a number of reasons why this is a bad decision, as we’ve discussed in previous posts, but suffice it to say, holding a search engine liable for search results people don’t like opens up a huge pandora’s box of problems.

Anyway, it seems that these kinds of lawsuits have become more popular in Australia, with another one appearing just last month. But, Trkulja’s attempt to get even more money from Google has come up short on appeal.

In 2013 he launched another defamation action against Google, and the internet company responded by applying to the Supreme Court to have the proceedings set aside because, it argued, his case had no real prospect of success. A judge dismissed Google’s application.

But Google appealed against that ruling, and the Victorian Court of Appeal ruled on Tuesday in Google’s favour when it set aside Mr Trkulja’s application.

The Court of Appeal found Google was not the primary publisher of the images and could not be found responsible for the results of online searches, which were produced automatically.

The search results were also incapable of being found defamatory of Mr Trkulja, the appeal court ruled.

Finally some good news on these kinds of cases down under. And, because Trkulja and friends may stop by here and freak out again, let’s be clear about what we’re saying: no one is saying that it’s good that Google’s search results popped up some unfortunate anomalies around your images. But it happened. That doesn’t mean that Google is liable, or that you should have the right to edit Google’s search results by lawsuit (or to demand lots and lots of cash from Google). Search engines aren’t doing this on purpose, and it’s not defamatory. It’s just giving the best results it can, and sometimes those aren’t perfect.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Google Finally Wins One Of Those Nutty Defamation Lawsuits Down Under”

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Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Major negative stories about Uber, Facebook, Google and the others ARE in fact regularly reported here.

But this is a technology blog, focusing on the technology of those companies. And because new technology is disruptive to IP law, (and the other way ’round) that gets covered a lot here too.

A company policy about “barring employees from writing novels” about someone in their industry is a different matter. K-Mart or Kellogg’s or Wells Fargo could have the same policy; the story has nothing to do with technology or Google being a technology company.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

IT is. It is specific to how these things affect your search results.

That aside, techdirt cannot report on every single last thing. It isn’t just a writing staff paid by someone. They have a business. And they don’t just mention (re-report news like other outlets), they write when they have something to add -an analysis, pointing to a trend, etc.

I seriously don’t know why people complain about some particular thing techdirt wrote or did not write about. Or when the same happens most other places for that matter.

But thanks for mentioning that about Google. I am not a particular fan of theirs and i welcome the confirmation to my bias. (Although their employees generally seem to be treated pretty freaking well.)

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Nothing else in the story is specific to technology or a technology company.

Just jumping in here to point out that it is an interesting story and we have it on our list of things we’d like to cover, and hopefully we’ll get to it. The reality, though, as I’ve said many, many times, is that we tend to cover about 25% of the stuff we’d like to cover, because we just don’t have enough time/resources to cover every story.

This one is interesting, and maybe we’ll get to it, maybe we won’t, but contrary to the suggestion of the (notably) anonymous commenter, it has nothing to do with it being about Google. We cover plenty of negative stories about Google, as has been pointed out many times before. In fact we’ll have one tomorrow morning, so stay tuned…


Daydream says:

While this is good and all...

I’m concerned that a decision that reduces liability of companies for search algorithms they design, will be used to, well…

You know that thing with automated takedown notices? How bots trawl the internet and send out tons of automated emails to take down so-and-so webpages?
Those cause real damage when they demand an innocent page taken down. Which happens a lot.

I’m concerned that Google’s “We aren’t liable because these search results were automatically generated by an algorithm” will be used to argue “We aren’t liable because these takedown notices were automatically generated by an algorithm”, and let the companies behind these takedown notices get away with more than they already have.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: While this is good and all...

I see your point, but there’s an important difference:

A search engine result has no legal force behind it. It’s only a suggestion. Not only can it be ignored, but one can safely ignore the entire service altogether with no consequences.

A wrongly generated DMCA takedown is far more than a suggestion. It has legal force behind it, and consequences for ignoring it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: While this is good and all...

To add to that: a search engine result is kicked off by the end user who is querying for a result, and one is given.

A DMCA takedown has a declaration in it that a human has reviewed the content and under penalty of perjury, finds that it infringes copyright.

I really don’t see why there aren’t more lawsuits against automated takedown notices, as it doesn’t really matter whether the site is infringing or not, it’s obviously not human-reviewed.

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