In a landmark decision in the Supreme Court of South Australia
(Duffy v Google Inc  SASC 170), search engine giant
Google has been held responsible for linking through to defamatory
material published and originating from a third party website and
also for defamatory auto-complete suggestions.
In an ongoing battle spanning six years, self-represented Dr
Janice Duffy has been victorious in having defamatory content
removed from Google's search and auto-complete functions that
was originally published about her on websites including US
website, Ripoff Report (website).
Unable to have the material removed directly through the
website, Dr Duffy approached Google requesting that the links to
material appearing when users searched her name be removed from
Google's search results and also from its auto-complete
suggestions. Following Google's refusal to remove the
defamatory material complained of, Dr Duffy filed legal proceedings
Google defended its position arguing that the search results
were automated and therefore did not amount to publication. All
Google's defences were rejected by Justice Blue in his
The Court found that Dr Duffy was indeed defamed by Google as a
result of its search results, hyperlinks and auto-complete
suggestions, as Google ought to have censored its content once it
was made aware of the defamatory material appearing.
The most interesting element of this decision was the finding
that Dr Duffy was defamed as a result of Google's auto-complete
functionality. This is the Google search function that predicts
words when a user types search terms into the search field, and
these appear in a drop down box below the search field. The
auto-complete results in this case were found to carry imputations
that were harmful to Dr Duffy's reputation.
Despite the fact that Google did eventually remove the
defamatory links (notably, only after court proceedings had been
filed), defamatory material continued to appear on Google as an
auto-complete suggestion when users searched for Dr Duffy's
Google was liable as it had specific knowledge of the defamatory
material contained in the search results and auto-complete
suggestions and refused to remove it. The Court also found that
Google was a re-publisher of the defamatory material on the website
by virtue of its hyperlinking through to that material.
This decision has potentially far-reaching consequences for
search engines, and has provided some hope for those whose
reputations have been publicly tarnished online. The removal of
defamatory content from Google, and potentially from other search
engines as well, is now expected to occur more quickly following
this decision, given that Google could be liable for a failure to
remove material if it has been notified of defamatory material
appearing and continues to publish it.
Nevertheless, potential complainants ought to bear in mind that
this outcome took over six years to achieve, and Google may well
consider treating other complaints of this nature on a case by case
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