February 2, 2018 | Maddalena Rinaldi

Internet search engines and third-party content providers in Australia have been given a sobering new perspective of the legal landscape in which they operate.

In 2015, Justice Blue held that Google should be liable as a secondary publisher of defamatory information yielded in its search results. The Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia has since dismissed Google’s appeal.

Dr Janice Duffy brought the case against the Internet colossus after Google refused to remove hyperlinks, sample paragraphs and autocomplete suggestions that linked a search of Dr Duffy’s name to defamatory articles. Google has been ordered to pay Dr Duffy $115,000 in damages for non-economic loss, but the greatest blow to Google are the future legal ramifications arising from the decision.

Although Google was not the creator of the original defamatory content, it had participated in the publication of the defamatory information to third parties and, most importantly, had been put on notice by Dr Duffy.  This created the rebuttable presumption that Google knew, or should reasonably have known, that it was disseminating defamatory information. The Court distinguished search engines like Google from internet service providers who merely provide customers access to the Internet.

The decision should be of great concern for online search engines and other publishers of third party information, as failure to respond to user complaints within a reasonable time could now lead to liability in defamation.  However, the decision proves a very efficient and effective remedy to those who are victims of defamatory imputation on the internet.

If you are looking for more advice on your responsibilities as an online content provider, or if you have been affected by the publication of defamatory material, contact the team at Sanicki Lawyers.

By: Simon McCormack