Google Must Pay Damages In Australian Defamation Case
October 31, 2012

Aussie Wins Gangland-Style Defamation Case Against Google

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Crime doesn´t pay, but Google will reportedly have to pay a 62-year-old man in Australia for defamation, according to various media sources.

On Wednesday a six-person Supreme Court jury found Michael Trkulja had in fact been defamed by search engine giant Google when images of him alongside a well-known underworld figure appeared in its search results.

When the Melbourne resident´s name was typed into Google´s image search, photos had appeared of him alongside gangland figure Tony Mokbel. The search results also linked to a page on a now defunct website, Melbourne Crime, which had published photos labeled with his name.

Trkulja had alleged that the US firm´s image and web results caused harm to his reputation and said that the site had refused to remove the material despite his requests. He had previously won a related case against Yahoo, and was awarded $225,000 in damages.

The judge is expected to set the level of damages owed by Google later this week.

Trkulja´s case is unique in that he is also considered a minor public figure. He moved to Australia in the early 1970s from Yugoslavia, and became a prominent member of the migrant community. He hosted the Yugoslav-themed “Micky´s Folkfest” television show in the 1990s in Australia.

The Melbourne resident had been the victim of a 2004 shooting. Trkulja was shot in the back by a man wearing a balaclava in a restaurant, reports BBC News. The crime was never solved, but police did not link the attack to the Melbourne underworld.

That unsolved shooting resulted in various Google images coming up during searches for Trkulja´s name, and some of those figures were allegedly murderers and one a drug trafficker. A caption “Melbourne Crime” also appeared beneath several of the photos and Trkulja alleged readers might believe he was a criminal.

The “Melbourne Crime” caption however referred to the source of the images — the now defunct website that operated by that name.

He argued that it created a “false innuendo” that suggested he had been involved with various crimes, and that possibly his rivals hired a hitman to murder him.

Google had argued that the results were based on automated software processes and that since it was not the publisher of the images, put forward the defense of “innocent dissemination.”

The jury found that Google was able to rely on that defense only up until 2009 when Trkulja´s lawyers had contacted the search giant and requested that the images be removed. But the jury did find that when it came to the URL that directed to Melbourne Crime that Trkulja did not follow the proper process of reporting any offensive content by Google — which could have been achieved by filling out a form on its website. As Trkulja did not do this the jury found that Google was therefore not liable.

The website that actually hosted the images has since been taken down and the images, along with any accompanying articles, are no longer indexed by Google´s search engine.

“I feel great,” Trkulja was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald following the jury´s decision. “I feel vindicated. It was a David and Goliath battle, a single man standing against a giant using all money and power available to them to squash an innocent person.”

Google has not commented on the verdict and reports on Wednesday morning suggested the search giant might still appeal the decision.