Google Loses ‘Landmark’ Defamation Case Against Australian Man

November 1, 2012 0

Melbourne, Australia — In a stunning court ruling, in favor of a 62-year-old Australian man who has reportedly won a landmark defamation case against Google for both the positioning and captioning of a photograph of him that were published in Google Image search results alongside gangland crimes he was not involved in.

In a complaint, Milroad Trkulja had asserted that the US firm’s image and web results had caused irreversible damage to his reputation.

According to a BBC report, Trkulja migrated to Australia in the early 1970s after leaving Yugoslavia. He later became a distinguished member of the migrant community, hosting the Yugoslav-themed “Micky’s Folkfest” television show in the 1990s.

In fact, in 2004, the former Australian TV presenter Trkulja was indeed shot in the back by a man wearing a balaclava while at a restaurant. The crime was never solved, but a report by the Herald Sun newspaper later said that police did not link the attack to Melbourne’s underworld, this incident caused more damage to his reputation, leading him to be ostracized within his migrant community.

As a result of the attack, Trkulja further mentioned that entering his name into Google Images displayed images of accused murderers and drug traffickers, underneath which his name appeared.

Also, beneath several images the caption “Melbourne Crime” appeared, while a web search of his name presented the words “Michael Trkulja — Melbourne Crime — Underworld — Ganglands”, with a sentence below connoting, “Former music promoter Michael Trkulja was shot in the back by a hitman wearing a balaclava while dining at a St Albans restaurant in June 2004,” which he had alleged might lead users to believe he was a criminal.

“Melbourne Crime”, in fact, referred to the source of the images — a now defunct website going by that name. Trkulja claimed that this caused a “false innuendo” unfairly suggesting he was a serious criminal with whom he had no connection beyond appearing on the same site.

While both listings were automatically presented in this unfortunate way, but when Trkulja discovered this flaw, he felt his reputation could be harmed by the results and asked Google to amend them.

Chronologically, in 2009, Trkulja’s lawyers contacted Google to ask it to amend its results but the Internet giant refused to budge, arguing the results were based on automated software processes and “innocent dissemination”. When this did not happen, Trkulja bought a defamation case.

In the ongoing lawsuit, the jury at the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that content should have been removed after Trkulja’s complaint and ruled that Google was liable for defamation, making it the first in Australian history.

According to News.com.au, the man told News Ltd that he was pleased by the decision: “This has been a big long battle I would not wish on my worst enemy. I’ve lived in Australia (for) 41 years. This case is not about money, it is about protecting my family, my children and my reputation,” he added.

According to the report, the jury ruled that Google having the listings appear like this in the first place was not an offense as it was purely the unfortunate result of an automated process. However, they ruled that once Trkulja made his complaint, Google was obligated to act and by failing to do so was responsible for defamation.

A second claim, about the rankings in the main search results, was discarded out on a technicality, which included the man’s image. Google argued that it could not be a publisher as a matter of law as search engine operators are “active intermediaries”.

Google has not commented on the verdict and may still appeal.

Besides, Trkulja has previously won a lawsuit against Yahoo after its Yahoo7 news service had also linked to defamatory content on the Melbourne Crime site. Yahoo admitted to “publishing” the content and paid more than A$241,000 (£155,000) in damages.