A MAN who claims Google has defamed him has won his High Court battle to sue the search engine giant.
The court ruled in favour of Milorad “Michael” Trkulja in a judgment on Wednesday, supporting his claim that search engine results could indicate to an ordinary person he was “somehow associated with the Melbourne criminal underworld”.
Mr Trkulja, who was shot in the back in a Melbourne restaurant in 2004, successfully argued in the Victorian Supreme Court in 2012 that Google defamed him by publishing photos of him linked to hardened criminals of Melbourne’s underworld.
Four years later the Victorian Court of Appeal overturned the decision, finding the case had no prospect of successfully proving defamation.
Google searches for “Melbourne criminal underworld photos” bring up images of Mr Trkulja alongside gangland figures Mick Gatto, Carl Williams, Chopper Reid, Mario Condello and Mark and Jason Moran, his lawyer Guy Reynolds told the High Court in March.
However, Google’s lawyers argued it would be “irrational” for someone to assume photos in a Google image search for underworld figures are all of criminals, because the same search would also bring up the Google logo, movie posters, images of crime victims and photos of actor Marlon Brando.
Mr Trkulja also claimed defamation around Google’s “autocomplete” options for his name, which have included phrases like “is a former hit man”, “criminal” and underworld”.
However the court heard autocomplete is an automatic function and that previous searches influence future suggestions.
In its decision, the High Court of Australia ruled the Google search results were capable of defaming Mr Trkulja.
“It would be open to a jury to conclude that an ordinary reasonable person using the Google search engine would infer that the persons pictured whose identities are unknown are persons, like the notorious criminals with whom they are pictured, in some fashion opprobriously connected with criminality and the Melbourne criminal underworld,” the judgment said. “So to conclude, as the Court of Appeal observed, might result in the list of persons potentially defamed being large and diverse. But contrary to the Court of Appeal’s apparent reasoning, that does not mean that the conclusion is unsound. It means no more than that, in such cases, the liability of a search engine proprietor, like Google, may well turn more on whether the search engine proprietor is able to bring itself within the defence of innocent dissemination than on whether the content of what has been published has the capacity to defame.”
Google was also order to pay the costs of the appeal.
More to come.