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Google ordered to pay damages over defamatory search results

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A judge in Australia has ordered Google to pay AUD200,000 (£131,000) to a man who had accused the firm of defamation over web search results, in what is being viewed as a landmark ruling.

Milorad Trkulja contacted Google in 2009 after finding that searches for his name brought up results that associated him with Australian organised crime organisations.

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He was shot at a restaurant in an unsolved crime in 2004 and some of the results claimed it was a professional hit as he was allegedly a major crime figure in Melbourne.

Lawyers for Trkulja asked Google to take down the "grossly defamatory content", but after the search firm resisted the calls, the case was eventually escalated to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Google attempted to argue that it merely presented information others had published, and noted that results for Trkulja's name also included coverage of his claims of defamation.

But in what could prove to be a landmark ruling, the jury found that Google should have done more in response to requests from Trkulja's legal team, reports AFP (via Phys.org).

Judge David Beach said that Google was the same as a library or newsagent, which can be held liable under Australian defamation laws.

"Google Inc is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article," Beach said.

"While there might be no specific intention to publish defamatory material, there is a relevant intention by the newsagent to publish the newspaper for the purposes of the law of defamation."

Judge Beach ordered Google to pay Trkulja AUD$208,000. He has already won a similar defamation case against Yahoo Australia concerning the same incident.

Google, the world's number one search engine, has faced criticism from various quarters over why it does not do more to stop potentially defamatory material from being readily available on the internet.

Ex-Formula One boss Max Mosley has taken Google to court in an attempt to force the firm to be more proactive against links to a 'sex orgy' video featuring him that was originally posted by a UK newspaper.

But Google has always maintained that it should not be expected to police the internet, and said that it will take down material only when it receives a proper court order.

"Google's search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web," the company said in a statement.

"The sites in Google's search results are controlled by those sites' webmasters, not by Google."

Google is expected to appeal the Trkulja verdict.

But Bond University media law expert Mark Pearson told AFP that this was a "groundbreaking" precedent in Australia, that could have wider implications.

"What the court's said here is that this isn't just innocent architecture, what this is is human-designed software to showcase information in a certain way," he said.

"The judge has said that because you [Google] have designed [the search results] to appear in this way, you are the publisher of the material."

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