Google wins landmark High Court case

By By Wenlei Ma | 6 February 2013
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

UPDATED: The High Court has handed Google a victory after it sided with the internet giant in a landmark decision against the ACCC.

The statement from the High Court said: "Google did not create the sponsored links that it published or displayed. Ordinary and reasonable users of the Google search engine would have understood that the representations conveyed by the sponsored links were those of the advertisers, and would not have concluded that Google adopted or endorsed the representations. Accordingly, Google did not engage in conduct that was misleading or deceptive."

The judgement from the High Court means Google cannot be held responsible for misleading ads posted by advertisers on its AdWords platform. Google has previously said that advertisers should be responsible for the ads they create on its platform.

King & Wood Mallesons technology partner John Swinson told AdNews: "Today's decision is not a surprise. When you look at the argument, Google was in the leading position. Courts are reluctant to hold the technology or platform provider liable, particularly when that platform can be used for good or bad.

"The real question here is when does the platform become a principal actor?" Swinson added that it is akin to asking whether you can hold a computer responsible or a human responsible. He also said cases such as this one showed that Google is increasingly being treated like a media company rather than a technology company, and questioned whether the two categories should be treated differently.

He likened the Google/ACCC case to a recent case involving ISP iiNet, which was found not to be responsible for its users' copyright infringement.

A Google spokesperson said: "We welcome the High Court’s unanimous decision that Google cannot be held responsible for the ads that advertisers create for Google's search engine."

Today's judgement overturned an earlier decision by the Full Federal Court in April 2012 which found the internet giant guilty of 'deceptive' and 'misleading' practices.

An initial case between the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Google before the Federal Court in September 2011 sided with Google. The company's argument then was that most consumers would be able distinguish between paid and organic search results.

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