Google has warned of a “devastating” impact on the internet if a court ruling that the search giant is liable for defamatory material contained in hyperlinked pages is not overturned.

Google warned in a submission to the high court it will be forced to “censor” its search results if a $40,000 defamation damages award to George Defteros, a solicitor who represented Melbourne gangland figures, is allowed to stand.

Defteros successfully sued Google, arguing its publication of search results that included a 2004 article in the Age about his arrest on conspiracy to murder charges – which were later dropped – defamed him.

In 2020, the Victorian supreme court justice Melinda Richards ruled the article had implied that Defteros crossed a line from professional lawyer to confidant and friend to criminal elements. Victoria’s court of appeal rejected a bid from Google to overturn the result.

Defteros’ lawyers had contacted Google in 2016 asking for the article to be removed but it refused on…

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