Australian beats Google in legal terms

An Australian has won a second defamation lawsuit against Google after a judge criticized the US-based search engine for not removing defamatory results more quickly.

Janice Duffy, a former senior researcher at South Australia’s Department of Health, was previously awarded $115,000 after a judge ruled in 2015 that Google had defamed her by publishing excerpts from defamatory websites and the full pages when users clicked links.

dr Janice Duffy sued Google for defamation in 2011 and 2016, winning both cases.

dr Janice Duffy sued Google for defamation in 2011 and 2016, winning both cases.Credit:David Mariuz, Bloomberg, iStock

Duffy launched a new case against Google in 2016 after she “became aware that virtually identical search results were again available on Google’s search engines,” Sydney Tilmouth, an assistant judge at the South African Supreme Court, said in a ruling on Friday.

Tilmouth on Friday ruled in Duffy’s favor that Google published three defamatory “snippets” of websites in its search results, along with two of the websites in full when users followed the links. He will assess the damage at a later date.

“Google has demonstrably participated in the communication of both [webpages] … in Australia on to hold it liable as a secondary publisher,” the judge said.

He dismissed Google’s defense of innocent proliferation and triviality. Tilmouth said there was evidence that the website behind the defamatory material, US-based Ripoff Report, “had a habit of specifically modifying URLs to circumvent Google’s removal methods.” He said the site is ostensibly a consumer reviews forum, but “[i]In truth, it benefits from extortionate business practices.”

“By… (Google) insisting on (Links), despite having the means at hand to find them easily,… (Google) acted improperly.”

Deputy Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia, Sydney Tilmouth

Tilmouth said Google was “reactive rather than proactive in the removal process” and should have acted to block or remove access to two other links to the same website “within a reasonable time” after Duffy won her first case.

It took a “stubborn stance” of insisting that Duffy provide accurate links to every website “before it was willing to consider removal,” Tilmouth said. Australian beats Google in legal terms

Callan Tansill

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