Just Google It
Google LLC v Defteros  HCA 27, handed down on 17 August 2022, is an important decision of the High Court of Australia in the field of defamation law. The majority decisions were from Kiefel CJ and Gleeson J (joint) and Edelman and Stewart JJ (joint), with Gageler and Gordon JJ dissenting in separate decisions. The issue at hand was whether Google had published an allegedly defamatory article from The Age newspaper by affording access by its internet search engine. Google successfully argued not, with its appeal being allowed.
The link to a helpful article on the case and its implications - which includes comments by Australian Bar Association president Dr Matt Collins QC, a highly respected Counsel in the field – can be found here.
This article includes the following:
By majority, the High Court found that Google was not a publisher of defamatory matter and did not lend assistance to The Age in communicating the defamatory matter contained in the 2004 article to third-party users.
Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justice Jacqueline Gleeson did so, Australian Bar Association president Dr Matt Collins QC outlined, “on the basis that, ordinarily, Google is not involved in the creation or original posting of the content it indexes, and its search results do not more than convey to an internet user that they may be interested in one or more of the pages linked in the results”.
Their honours held that a “search result is fundamentally a reference to something, somewhere else. Facilitating a person’s access to the contents of another’s webpage is not participating in the bilateral process of communicating its contents to that person.”
To hold that the provision of a hyperlink made Google a participant in the communication of the article, the justices argued, would “expand the principles relating to publication”, finding there is a difference between “drawing a person’s attention to the existence of an article and communicating its content”.