Defamation – publication – whether appellant ‘publisher’ of defamatory matter…

compensation law casenotes

…whether providing search result amounted to act of participation in communication of defamatory matter to third party

The respondent George Defteros is a solicitor who represented many well-known persons during Melbourne’s ‘gangland wars’. 

In 2004 he was charged with conspiracy to murder and incitement to murder Carl Williams and others. In 2005 the charges against the respondent were withdrawn. The charges against the respondent were widely reported, and The Age newspaper published an article titled ‘Underworld loses valued friend at court’ (Underworld article). This and other articles were published on the newspaper’s website.

In 2016 the respondent became aware that a google search of his name produced search results that included a snippet of the Underworld article. The search result contained a hyperlink to the full article. The article imputed that the respondent had crossed the line from being a professional lawyer to being a confidant and friend of ‘criminal elements’.

At first instance, trial judge Richards J found that Google had published the defamatory matter by virtue of the hyperlink’s insertion in the search result. The trial judge held that the search engine lends assistance to the publication of the content of a webpage on the user’s device. Google appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal (Beach, Kaye and Niall JJA) and this appeal was dismissed. The decision was appealed to the High Court.


The appeal was allowed and the decision of the Court of Appeal was set aside.


In a 5:2 majority decision, the High Court held that the provision of search results by Google containing a hyperlink did not amount to publishing. Google search results were “merely a tool which enables a person to navigate to another webpage”. Google’s involvement was likened to a librarian who directs a user to a book on a shelf. The majority held that the provision of a search result did not contribute to the creation and publication of the defamatory article.


This compensation law casenote appears courtesy of Travis Schultz & Partners (TSP), where the author, Beth Rolton, is a Partner. As part of the firm’s commitment to providing ongoing legal education, TSP practitioners review relevant judgments and prepare case summaries for the legal profession. A free searchable catalogue of compensation law casenotes is available at (registration required). The full version of the judgments can be found at

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