Google: Defamation Law Suits will bring Censorship

John Lister's picture

Google says defamation laws could mean it has to "censor" search results. It's appealing a case in Australia where it was told to pay damages for a link to a newspaper article.

The case involves a man arrested in 2004 on charges of conspiracy to murder. The charges were later dropped.

Google's search results database included a link to an Australian newspaper article from the time of the arrest. In 2016 the man asked Google to remove the link but it refused to do so.

The man then sued Google for defamation, arguing that linking to the article had the same effect as the article itself. He argued that listing the charges without noting they had been dropped was defamatory.

An Australian court agreed, as did an appeal court when Google contested the original verdict. Although it was fined $40,000, hardly a major financial blow for such a company, it's now taking the case to Austalia's High Court. That rules on constitutional issues and is roughly equivalent to the US Supreme Court.

Google Fears Mass Deletion

According to Google, the key legal question is "Is an operator of a search engine liable as a publisher of defamatory matter on a third-party webpage to which its search result provides a hyperlink in circumstances where the search result on its own conveys no defamatory imputation of and concerning the plaintiff?" (Source:

Google argues that unless the original verdict is overturned, it will be forced to remove any links whenever somebody claims the relevant page is defamatory, however credible or otherwise the claim is. It says that could have a "devastating" effect on the Internet. (Source:

Europe Has Own Issues

This case and Australia's laws are a separate issue to the "right to be forgotten" that has caused similar disputes in countries where Europe's General Data Protection Regulation applies.

That law gives people the right to ask organizations to delete personal information that's now irrelevant or outdated. While it's fairly clear-cut that this right applies to publishers of websites, lawyers have argued whether it should also apply to search engines that link to the pages in question.

What's Your Opinion?

Should Google win this case? Should links to defamatory material count as defamation themselves? Legal or moral arguments aside, is it practical for search engines to vet the pages they link to?

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Chief's picture

Once history is written, it cannot be changed.

The people who want the 'right to be forgotten', I get it, but to expect a search engine to bend over and kiss your boo-boo is ridiculous.

Will we be burning books next?

chergray3_4822's picture

Good. No constitution anywhere in the world gives the right to ruin lives for clickbait profits. All journalists know this even though they inhabit a conscience-free world. Google has no ethics to uphold but should learn. Even multi-billion dollar fines have had no effect on the corporation (or other social media corporations) developing community values, so even the little guys have to go to great expense to seek justice after damage has been done. Americans should realise this as their own society has been permanently fractured by the half-lies and misinformation spread by social media gants pleading that it's not their fault! Of course it is; censorship is not the issue-- malicious gossip is!!