If you've ever searched your own name on the Internet and
been shocked to find it popping up in less than salubrious company,
you can understand why Milorad Trkulja sued Google.
Not only had the former Melbourne music promoter been shot by an
unknown gunman in 2004 while dining at a restaurant, but he then
found his name and image linked by Internet searches to the
Melbourne underworld. Police stress Mr Trkulja has no criminal
associations and was an innocent bystander.
In 2009 Mr Trkulja asked Google and other search engines to
remove the content and searches linking his name to Melbourne
criminals. Google was linking images of Mr Trkulja alongside well
known underworld figure Tony Mokbel in its search results. Mr
Trkulja said people were avoiding him even though he was an
innocent victim of a gangland shooting.
But Google failed to remove the links and Mr Trjkulja sued
Google seeking $339,000 in damages. He argued having his name
linked to underworld figures created a "false innuendo"
suggesting he had been involved in crime and that his rivals had
hired a hitman to murder him.
In a landmark decision, a six person jury in the Victorian
Supreme Court has ruled against Google. It's important to note
Google lost the case because they failed to respond to Mr
Trkulja's complaint. But it means search engines such as Google
can't ignore future takedown notices.
It's a landmark case that could have a big impact for the
Internet. Courts in Britain have ruled search engines are not
publishers, but purely mechanical devices and therefore not
responsible for the material it links via searches.
In the Melbourne case Google's lawyers used the same
argument, saying Google was merely providing links to content
without knowing the material was defamatory.
Mr Trkulja won a similar case against Yahoo! in March and was
awarded $225,000 in damages. Google makes $24 billion profit, so
any payout to Mr Trkulja won't hurt them financially, and
Google may appeal.
But the case could open the floodgates to many others who feel
aggrieved about the treatment of their good name on the Internet or
The case shows that as soon as an Internet search engine knows
about a defamation complaint it can be held liable for what it
publishes in its search results.
If you or anyone you know is aggrieved by what appears about
them on the Internet or social media, it would be wise to seek
legal advice. Not only is it possible to sue the owners of websites
or authors of Facebook or Twitter comments, but now the search
engines that distribute the comments far and wide
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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