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Google loses defamation case against Australian man

Google has been found liable for damages after an Australian court ruled in favour of a complaint that its search results linked a local man to gangland crimes he was not involved in.

62-year-old Milroad Trkulja alleged that the US firm's image and web results had caused harm to his reputation. Trkjula said that entering his name into Google Images brought up images of accused murderers and drug traffickers, underneath which his name appeared.

Underneath several pictures the caption "Melbourne Crime" appeared, while a web search of his name showed the words "Michael Trkulja - Melbourne Crime - Underworld - Ganglands", with a sentence below reading, "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."

Trkulja said this created a "false innuendo" unfairly suggesting he was a criminal.

In 2004, former Australian TV presenter Trkulja was indeed shot in the back by a man while at a restaurant. The crime was never solved, but a report by the Herald Sun newspaper (opens in new tab) later said that police did not link the attack to Melbourne's underworld.

In 2009, Mr Trkulja's lawyers contacted Google to ask it to amend its results but the Internet giant refused, arguing the results were based on automated software processes and "innocent dissemination".

In the ensuing lawsuit, the jury at the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that content should have been removed after Trkulja's complaint and ruled that Google was liable for defamation.

"I've lived in Australia 41 years. This case is not about the money, it's about protecting my family, my children and my reputation," said Trkulja to Australia's News Limited Network. (opens in new tab)

Google has not commented on the verdict and may still appeal.

Trkulja has previously won a lawsuit against Yahoo after its Yahoo7 news service had also linked to defamatory content on the Melbourne Crime site. Yahoo admitted to "publishing" the content and paid more than A$241,000 (£155,000) in damages.

Meanwhile, Google also faces legal action by Bettina Wulff, wife of the former German president Christian Wulff, after complaining that typing her name into the search engine brings up the suggested search terms "prostitute" and "red light district".