In a recent case, the Victorian Supreme Court found that a search engine is a “publisher” for the purposes of a defamation action, even prior to receiving notice of the defamatory content. The judge said Google is like a newsagent who sells a defamatory publication. It has long been the case that a newsagent can be sued for defamation in that instance.
The judge notes that Google employs highly skilled programmers to develop its algorithms and any defamatory material is no coincidence, but a direct consequence of the operation of the search engine in the way in which it was intended to operate. Google’s ignorance of the specific defamatory material generated in response to a search does not prevent it from being liable as a publisher.
So the protective wall once thought to be around search engines like Google and Yahoo protecting them from defamation action is slowly but surely coming down and plaintiffs are now enjoying some good victories against them.