Aussie awarded AU$200K in Google defamation case

Summary:The Victorian Supreme Court has awarded a man AU$200,000 in damages after he sued the search giant for defamation.

A Melbourne man who successfully sued Google for defaming him by linking him to underworld figures has been awarded AU$200,000 in damages from the US search engine.

Michael Trkulja was shot in the back as he dined in a St Albans restaurant in 2004.

He sued Google upon finding that a search of his name brought up his image on the same page as convicted drug boss Tony Mokbel.

An article about his shooting was published under the heading "Melbourne crime."

A Victorian Supreme Court jury found that the publications implied that Trkulja was so involved with crime in Melbourne that his rivals had hired a hitman to murder him.

Justice David Beach today ordered Google to pay Trkulja AU$200,000 in damages for continuing to publish the defamatory material between October and December 2009, despite having received a letter from Trkulja's lawyers in September asking for its removal.

The trial heard that Trkulja had been a show business manager for 40 years, had a top-rating television show in the 1990s, and was a highly respected member of the Serbian community in Melbourne.

The publications by Google had caused him devastation, hurt, and stress, the court heard.

Google denied that the meanings alleged by Trkulja were conveyed, and pleaded innocent dissemination, arguing that its publication system is fully automated.

Justice Beach said that the jury was entitled to find that Google intended to publish the material produced by its automated systems, because that was what Google employees had designed the systems to do.

"In that sense, Google Inc is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article," he said.

"While there might be no specific intention to publish defamatory material, there is a relevant intention by the newsagent to publish the newspaper for the purposes of the law of defamation."

Trkulja was earlier this year awarded AU$225,000 in damages from the Yahoo7 search engine over its publication of the material.

A Google spokesman said that the results displayed by the search engine were a reflection of the content and information available on the internet.

"The sites in Google's search results are controlled by those sites' webmasters, not by Google," he said.

Google has previously used the automation of its system as a defence in a case brought against it by the competition regulator over misleading advertising appearing in search results. That case went to the High Court in September this year , but the judgment has yet to be handed down.

Josh Taylor contributed to this article.

Topics: Google, Australia

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