Defamation by Google Search

In a landmark case the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Google disputing its liability for defamation. The  Court confirmed that the company can be held legally accountable for defamatory information found through its search engine.

Published in The Advertiser Newspaper – 5 October 2017 (Page 12)

The published reasons for the decision of the Supreme Court in Google Inc v Duffy [2017] SASCFC 130 include the following key findings:

  • Google was a secondary publisher of the relevant paragraphs and knowledge of those search results should not be attributed to Google  until notice is given.
  • The search results published by Google incorporated the defamatory material because it facilitated the reading of the defamatory material in a substantial and proximate way.
  • The fact that the defamatory imputations were contained in search results which repeated material from the underlying web pages did not deny their capacity to convey a defamatory meaning.

Our Comment: The decision shows that the existing law of defamation is well equipped to deal with online publishing. Online publishers should also note the potential adverse effect of notices alerting them to defamatory material and ensure that they have procedures in place to deal with such notices.

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