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Australian law that makes people liable for linking to defamatory content will have a “devastating” impact on speech if not overturned

Google is leading the challenge against the law.
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Google is fighting to get an Australian court judgment overturned in order to avoid liability for defamatory content found in hyperlinked pages.

The case that is now before the country’s High Court stems from a previous decision by the Victoria Supreme Court that found Google liable for showing a search result leading to an article published in the Age about George Defteros, which he found defamed his person.

Related: 🛡 Behind the Australian government’s next major push to suppress online speech

Google was in 2020 ordered to pay the lawyer, who represented persons with criminal background, $40,000 in damages, after a court of appeals upheld the ruling which found that the implication made in the article was that Defteros was not merely doing his job, but had become personally close with his clients.

Four years earlier, before he sued, Defteros tried to get the article removed from search results, but Google said The Age was “a reputable” media outlet and would not cooperate.

Google’s argument now, in asking for the compensation ruling to be overturned, is that it sets a precedent that would compel it to censor search results (even more, critics would say – the tech giant doesn’t seem to have any problem downgrading or removing results and links of those sources it feels are not “reputable”).

In this instance, Google was referring to links found in search, and the giant’s apparent liability for any content found on the other end of that link. Google also took issue with the “quality” of Defteros’ original notice, when he apparently falsely stated that the Age had decided to delete the article from its website.

Whatever the notice it received, Google’s appeal before the Supreme Court said, it would have to comply, and be treated as a publisher – and this is something the corporation insists it is not – despite the fact it routinely surfaces, suppresses, and removes content at will. But in this case, it focused its argument on the nature of a hyperlink, declaring it not to be content – i.e., “the communication of that to which it links.”

“The inevitable consequence of leaving the court of appeal’s decision undisturbed is that Google will be required to act as censor by excluding any webpage about which complaint is made from its search results,” the filing reads, via The Guardian Australia.

Google here made a distinction between web pages it believes are of legitimate interest to “the substantial portion of people” – not to mention if they are published by “a reputable news source” – apparently as opposed to other scenarios.

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