Google cannot be described as publisher and is therefore not responsible for insulting statements in an article that can be found via the search engine. The hyperlink is only a tool, according to judges. Google has won a defamation case in Australia’s high court.
The majority in the country´s high court ruled that the search engine is not responsible for a story by Melbourne newspaper The Age that had published an article that an Australian lawyer claimed insulted him.
The majority of justices came to the conclusion that the search engine “merely facilitated access” to the newspaper story and that this cannot legally be described as publication.
Google had appealed a lower court ruling that had found the search engine having published the controversial article from The Age as the search result was instrumental in finding the newspaper story.
However, the higher court’s judgement summary now says that there was no Google publication because the Google had not participated in the writing or disseminating of the defamatory matter.
Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and one of her colleagues in a statement said:
“In reality, a hyperlink is merely a tool which enables a person to navigate to another webpage”.
But the ruling has already been criticized. University of Western Australia law professor Michael Douglas told Australian Review that he and his colleagues in defamation law were shocked as the ruling could allow Google to get away with inflicting “reputational harm” on Australians.
“The only beneficiaries are massive tech companies, who pay little tax in Australia, and the losers are ordinary Australians who want to defend themselves against horrible things said online,” he was quoted by Australian Review.