High Court of Australia Finds Google Not a Publisher for Linking Articles

The ruling determines that online services, including Google, are not publishers for linking to content.

Today, the High Court of Australia ruled that Google is not a publisher of the websites it links to in the case, Google LLC v Defteros. The ruling overturns a previous ruling in which the Supreme Court of Victoria determined Google was a publisher for linking to newspaper articles.

In its ruling, the High Court explains that “a hyperlink is merely a tool which enables a person to navigate to another webpage” and, thus, facilitates access, but does not disseminate or publish the material. In a concurrence to the opinion, two of the High Court justices noted that the case did not involve material that was promoted by Google as part of a search result. These justices indicated that it could be a more closely argued case for attaching liability if Google and a third party have an agreement to promote content on the third party’s webpage. 

This ruling aligns with our 2021 principles on protecting free expression online in that it affirms the importance of 230-like protections for entities that provide access to user-generated content. Public Knowledge supports the decision.

The following can be attributed to Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge:

“The High Court of Australia has acknowledged what should be well understood after decades of living in an interconnected, online world – facilitating access to information should not give rise to liability for the entity facilitating that access. 

“An interesting issue raised in the concurring opinion, however, is whether such protection should be extended to content that is promoted by an agreement between the entity facilitating information access – like Google – and a third-party website, including paid advertisers. Public Knowledge has argued that such business dealings should be outside the scope of Section 230 protections because when the parties promoting content have a financial incentive to amplify the number of people who view said content, these parties should also have an incentive to more carefully examine the content they are promoting. 

“This decision provides additional strength for promoting a free and open internet where a diversity of views can flourish.”

Learn more about our Section 230 principles – designed to protect consumers’ ability to freely express themselves online – in our blog post, “Principles to Protect Free Expression on the Internet.”