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Man wins $200,000 in defamation case against Google

Friday 16 Nov 2012 8:56 a.m.

Current results for a Google image search for Milorad Trkulja

Current results for a Google image search for Milorad Trkulja

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By Dan Satherley

A Melbourne man has been awarded AU$200,000 in damages after winning a defamation case against Google.

Music promoter Milorad Trkulja was shot in the back in 2004 by a masked gunman, and news reports and images published on the internet were picked up by Google's search engine.

When Mr Trkulja's name was typed into Google, photos of him appeared alongside photos of Australian drug lord Tony Mobkel, and news reports referencing organised crime also surfaced.

A BBC news story was the top hit, with the sentence: "Former music promoter Michael Trkulja was shot in the back by a hitman wearing a balaclava while dining at a St. Albans restaurant in June 2004." He claimed this established a "false innuendo" that a hitman had been hired to kill him, and his social life had suffered as his friends were now avoiding him.

One picture of Mr Trkulja appeared with the caption "Melbourne Crime", the name of a website which had reported on the shooting.

Mr Trkulja claimed this was defamatory, saying users could be misled into believing he had criminal associations, so in 2009 he asked Google to remove the content. Google refused, saying it was not responsible as it did not publish the material – it only provided links.

"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."

But the jury thought otherwise reports the Herald, finding that Google was liable because it did not take any steps to remove the images from its searches after being contacted in 2009.

''I feel vindicated," Mr Trkulja told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It was a David and Goliath battle, a single man standing against a giant using all money and power available to them to squash an innocent person.''

On the other hand, the jury found Google not guilty in regards to the search results themselves, as Mr Trkulja had incorrectly filled out a form by not stating what the offending sites were.

Mr Trkulja won AU$225,000 in damages earlier in the year after launching similar allegations against Yahoo.

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