In a filing by the search giant on Friday, Google says it will be forced to ‘act as censor’ if the nation’s top court doesn’t overturn a decision that awarded a lawyer $40,000 in damages for defamation for an article to which the company had linked via its search engine, reports The Guardian.
In 2016, George Defteros, a Victorian barrister whose list of former clients included people involved in the notorious Melbourne gang killings, contacted Google to ask the firm to remove a 2004 article from The Age.
The article featured stories about murder charges filed by prosecutors against Defteros in the deaths of three men. These charges were later dropped in 2005. The company refused to remove the article from its search results because it considered the publication to be a reliable source.
The case eventually went to court, with Defteros successfully asserting the article and Google search results defaming him. The judge overseeing the case ruled that The Age reporting suggested Defteros had been comfortable with Melbourne’s criminal underworld. The Victoria Court of Appeal later rejected a bid by Google to overturn the decision.
From Google’s point of view, this is one of the fundamental elements of the Internet. “A hyperlink is not, in itself, the communication of what it points to,” the company argues in its submission to the High Court.
If the 2020 ruling stands, Google says it will make it “responsible as publisher for any subject matter published on the web to which its search results provide a hyperlink,” including news from trusted sources. In its defense, the company cites a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that a hyperlink by itself is never a posting of defamatory material.