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Google LLC v Defteros [2022] HCA 27

Google LLC v Defteros [2022] HCA 27

Published on September 16, 2022 by Daniel O’Brien and Grace BrophyDaniel O’Brien and Grace Brophy

The High Court of Australia has overturned the Victorian Court of Appeal’s 2021 decision [1], which had initially found Google liable for defaming Victorian lawyer, George Defteros, and deeming the search engine as a publisher of defamatory material. [2]

Background

In 2016 George Defteros commenced defamation proceedings after “googling” himself and finding a hyperlink to an article by The Age entitled, “Underworld loses valued friend at court”.

The article reported Mr Defteros’ alleged involvement in Melbourne’s “gangland wars”, and his controversial 2004 arrest. The criminal charges against Mr Defteros were eventually withdrawn, and Mr Defteros requested that Google remove the hyperlink on the basis that it contained defamatory material. Google refused Mr Defteros’ request and did not remove the publication until December 2016. Between the time of Google becoming notified of the defamatory publication and proceeding to take it down, it had been viewed 150 times.

In May 2020, the trial judge found in favour of Mr Defteros, and awarded him $40,000 in damages for the 2016 proceedings.

In 2021, Google appealed the decision of the trial judge by arguing that:

  • they were not the publisher of material within the meaning of defamation law. Instead, they only provided access to the material by way of hyperlink;
  • they should be able to rely on the common law defence of qualified privilege on the basis that they provided users with information that was of public interest;
  • that they should be able to rely on the qualified privilege defence under s 30 of the Defamation Act 2005 (Vic) for the same reason as (2) above; and
  • they should have the benefit of relying on the innocent dissemination defence, as there was no intention to deliberately distribute defamatory material.

The decision of the Court of Appeal upheld the findings of the trial judge, whereupon Google appealed to the High Court.

The High Court ultimately found in favour of Google, determining that Google had not published the defamatory material. The majority minimised Google’s involvement in the dissemination of the defamatory material by stating “Google does not, merely by providing the search result in a form which includes the hyperlink, direct, entice or encourage the searcher to click on the hyperlink”.

Please call us on (02) 9291 7185 for a free initial consultation to discuss your legal options in relation to your defamation enquiry or dispute and how we may be able to assist you.

For assistance with your claim, please contact:

Daniel O’Brien – dobrien@codea.com.au
Grace Brophy – gbrophy@codea.com.au


[1] Defteros v Google LLC [2021] VSCA 167

[2] HC judgement  https://jade.io/article/942364?at.hl=Google+LLC+v+Defteros+%255B2022%255D+HCA+27

 

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