The case of Trkulja v Google, and the earlier matter involving Yahoo, have clarified the role of search engines in defamation matters. The key points are:
- The owners of internet search engines are ‘publishers’ even if the relevant mix of material (such as images) are generated through the mechanical results of those search engines; and
- If the owner of the search engine is notified of the defamatory material and does not take appropriate action, they cannot rely on the defence of ‘innocent dissemination’.
This article from pcmag.com gives a good overview of the implications of the case. In essence, search engines (at least in Australia) will need to be more responsive to complaints that they are publishing defamatory material.
While the search engine owners themselves might complain, these types of legal results are a good thing. They are clarifying ‘who is responsible for what’ on the internet. The internet is not above the law but it has been subject of a lot of legal uncertainty. Resolving that uncertainty will help people to use the internet with greater confidence – and that has to be a good thing.