Australia’s highest court overturned on Wednesday a ruling that had found Google engaged in defamation by supplying a link to a contested newspaper article, throwing the spotlight again on how online libel cases are handled in the country.
The seven-judge panel of the High Court of Australia voted 5-2 to throw out an earlier finding that the Alphabet Inc unit played a part in publishing the disputed article by acting as a “library” housing it, saying the website had no active role.
The decision brings fresh confusion to a question that has been simmering in Australia for years about where liability rests for online defamation.
A years-long review of the country’s libel law is yet to give a final recommendation on whether large platforms like Google and Facebook should be accountable.
The case stems from a 2004 article which suggested that a criminal defence lawyer had crossed professional lines and become a “confidant” of criminals, according to the published judgment.
The lawyer, George Defteros, found a link to the story in a 2016 Google search of his name and had Google remove it after it was viewed by 150 people.
Defteros sued in a state court which found Google was a publisher and ordered it to pay him A$40,000 ($28,056).
Google appealed the judgment, culminating in Wednesday’s decision.

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