The South Australian Supreme Court has found that Google published defamatory statements that appeared in autocomplete and related search terms on its search engine, after it received notice of the defamatory material and failed it remove it.
His Honour Justice Blue reasoned that the defamatory phrase was 'generated by Google programs as a result of Google's programming' and that 'the mere fact that the words are programmed to be generated because the user or others have previously searched for those words makes no difference' to the question of publication. His Honour decided that there was no reason why Google should not be held accountable for these 'publications' after it was put on notice by the plaintiff. It is worth noting that the plaintiff did not seek to argue that Google should be liable for the period prior to notification.
In his judgment, his Honour referred to the 'only authority' on this point as supporting this conclusion, being the decision of the High Court of Hong Kong in Dr Yeung Sau Shing Albert v Google Inc. In that case, the High Court dismissed an application by Google to have the proceeding stayed or dismissed on the basis that, among other things, the plaintiff had 'a good arguable case' that Google was the publisher of defamatory statements that appeared in Google Autocomplete and Related Search results.
His Honour Justice Blue also followed the reasoning of the Victorian Supreme Court in Trkulja v Google Inc LLC (No 5) and held that Google was the publisher of defamatory search results (comprising of the title, snippet and URL) after it received notification and failed to remove the defamatory results within a reasonable time.
A further hearing is scheduled to decide the remaining issues of the defences of triviality and time limitation, the application for an extension of time, causation and quantum of damages.
You can read the judgment in full here.