It’s the first time a plaintiff has won a defamation case entirely based on Google search results.
When you type your own name into a search engine, are you pleased with the results? No? Maybe you’re entitled to a hefty payout.
That’s what happened to Australia’s Milorad Trkulja. A victim of a still-unsolved violent crime, a Google images search of his name brought up unrelated criminal images, like pictures of Australian mafia members, which Trkulja found defamatory. When Google didn’t respond to Trkulja’s lawyer’s 2009 request to alter its search results to better suit him, he sued.
In what’s believed to be a first for Google, the company was ordered Monday to pay $200,000 Australian (U.S. $208,620). The presiding judge likened the search company to a news seller that sells defamatory publications.
A church elder and music promoter, Trkulja, 62, said that Google’s results had had a debilitating effect on his life, leading people to think that he was shot because he was involved in the criminal underworld, he said. Also, he said, people at a wedding he attended refused to sit near him because of his alleged criminal association.
Trkulja’s search engine misfortune is turning into a literal fortune. In March, he sued Yahoo for the exact same reason—defamatory search results that associated him with criminal activity—and was awarded $250,000 Australian (U.S. $260,775). He likely would have been awarded additional damages from Google for associating him with criminal activity in their Web search, but he filled out a complaint form incorrectly.
“I’ve lived in Australia 41 years,” he told reporters after the ruling. “This case is not about money, it’s about protecting my family, my children and reputation.”
As of press time, the first image search result for this writer’s name brings up a criminal of the same name who killed his family and himself in California. BRB, suing.
Photo of Australian criminal Tony Mokbel via Wikimedia Commons
Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.