Melbourne man Milorad Trkulja has been in a long fight with Google over its search results.
Melbourne man Milorad Trkulja has been in a long fight with Google over its search results.

High Court backs man to sue Google for defamation

A MELBOURNE man has scored a major win in his fight against Google after the High Court gave him the green light to sue the search engine giant following a protracted legal battle.

Milorad "Michael" Trkulja was shot in the back in a Melbourne restaurant in 2004 during a period when a series of underworld killings took place across the city.

In 2012 he successfully argued in the Victorian Supreme Court that Google defamed him by publishing photos of him linked to hardened criminals of Melbourne's underworld. According to the ABC, the search results and images wrongly linked Mr Trkulja with well known Melbourne crime bosses including Tony Mokbel.

However four years later the Victorian Court of Appeal overturned the decision, agreeing with Google and arguing the case had no prospect of successfully proving defamation.

But in 2017, the High Court granted him special leave to appeal against that decision.

Arguing in court in March, Mr Trkulja's lawyer claimed Google searches for "Melbourne criminal underworld photos" produced results that included his client alongside photos of notorious crime figures like Carl Williams, Chopper Reid, Mario Condello and Mark and Jason Moran.

Google's lawyers argued it would be "irrational" for someone to assume photos in a Google image search for underworld figures are all of criminals, because the same search would also bring up the Google logo, movie posters, images of crime victims and photos of actor Marlon Brando.

Mr Trkulja is also claiming defamation around Google's "autocomplete" options for his name which offer potential search suggestions before the user has finished typing.

For Mr Trkulja the suggestions included phrases like "is a former hit man", "criminal" and underworld".

However the court heard autocomplete is an automatic function and that previous searches influence future suggestions.

But in a ruling handed down on Wednesday, the High Court supported his claim that the Google search results could indicate to an ordinary person he was "somehow associated with the Melbourne criminal underworld".

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