Google has petitioned the High Court of Australia to overturn a 2020 ruling that it claims will have a “devastating” impact on the internet as a whole.
According to The Guardian, in a filing made on Friday, Google claims it will be forced to “act as censor” if the country’s highest court does not overturn a decision that awarded a lawyer $40,000 in defamation damages for an article linked to by its search engine.
George Defteros, a Victoria state lawyer whose past clients included individuals implicated in Melbourne’s notorious gangland killings, contacted Google in 2016 to request that a 2004 article from The Age be removed.
The article included reporting on murder charges filed against Defteros in connection with the deaths of three men. These charges were eventually dropped in 2005. The company refused to remove the article from its search results because it considered the publication to be credible.
Defteros eventually took the case to court, where he successfully argued that the article and Google’s search results had defamed him.
The judge who presided over the case ruled that The Age’s reporting implied Defteros had ties to Melbourne’s criminal underworld. Google’s attempt to overturn the ruling was later rejected by the Victorian Court of Appeals.
From Google’s perspective, what’s at stake here is one of the internet’s fundamental building blocks. “A hyperlink is not, in and of itself, the communication of that to which it links,” the company claims in its High Court submission.
If the 2020 judgment is upheld, Google claims it will hold it “liable as the publisher of any matter published on the web to which its search results provide a hyperlink,” including reputable news stories.
In its defense, the company cites a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision holding that a hyperlink by itself is never a publication of defamatory material.