Google and Melbourne lawyer George Defteros is due to battle in the High Court of Australia today over whether the search engine giant is classified as a publisher or not.
- Mr Defteros successfully sued Google in 2020 after failing to remove a story he calls defamatory
- Both sides referred to last year’s landmark High Court ruling which found media outlets liable for defamatory comments on their Facebook pages.
- Google says it’s just a browser, not a content editor
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 previously reached an agreement with The Age, but sued Google when it continued to direct searches to the article via a link, after the search giant refused to grant a removal request.
Google’s submissions to the High Court rejected the claim that the link to the story amounted to a post.
Tribunal to determine whether Google is a browser or an active participant
Today the court will hear from the defense that Google is just a browser.
“Much like a modern phone call, where the caller communicates directly with the listener…without publication by the company itself,” Google’s submissions state.
But lawyers for Mr. Defteros say Google is an active participant.
“The Google search engine is not a passive tool, such as that provided by a telephone company,” says Defteros.
Google will also argue that it has a qualified privilege defense at common law.
But in their submissions, lawyers for Mr Defteros suggest they will tell the court that qualified privilege only applies if the person conducting the search has a legitimate interest in the information beyond gossip or curiosity. .
Its lawyers say the common law rules for publication are 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 say the ruling asserts that the process in which a defamatory matter is disclosed must be active and voluntary, which it claims not to be.
But lawyers for Mr Defteros say Google was the publisher under the principles developed by Voller, facilitating and providing a platform, even though it had no intention of communicating the defamatory statement. in question.
“The search result prompted the searcher to click on the hyperlink,” Defteros’ comments state.
The hearing is expected to last a day.