Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) Search service has been iconic in our current world society. So much so, the company has become a verb. “I just Googled antique ceramic turtles …” The goal of Search is to provide the most relevant results for a particular person, place or thing for which Google Inc. (GOOG) is asked to search. But can a search engine actually defame someone featured in a search result? According to an Australian court the answer is yes. How will investors in Google Inc. (NADAQ:GOOG) stock react to this decision, especially billionaire fund manager Julian Robertson of Tiger Management? Can this set a legal precedent and make search engines liable for what their search engines find?
In an unprecedented decision, a jury in Australia found that indeed, Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) defamed an Melbourne man when its search results erroneously linked Michael Trkulja to stories about infamous gang leader Tony Mokbel. Trkulja was linked in a Google images search when his photo appeared next to Mokbel’s in a story about a restaurant shooting in 2004 in which Trkulja was shot during a drug gang shootout, though Trkulja was an innocent bystander and not part of the drug war.
Trkulja alerted Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) of the search error in 2009, but decided to sue when Google Inc. (GOOG) did not respond and fix the problem, which began from a link to a now-expired Web site called “Melbourne Crime.” Mokbel, who was a prominent drug lord in Melbourne in the early 2000s, was finally captured in Greece in 2007 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for running a drug cartel. However, because Trkulja’s photo as a victim was right next to Mokbel’s in the story, the victim kept turning up in search results – even well after Trkulja brought up the mistake to Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG).
While there is no report yet of an award or damages, the jury found that Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has a certain claim of “innocent dissemination,” but that the claim no longer has any credence after the company was alerted to the mistake in 2009. He said this mistake by Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has cost him patronage in many local restaurants.
Trkulja was awarded $225,000 in damages in a similar case brought against Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), and will learn about the damage award in the Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) case in the middle of November. “This has been a big long battle I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” Trkulja said. “This case is not about money, it’s about protecting my family, my children and reputation.”