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Australian court makes Google pay $515,000 for defamation

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CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian court on Monday ordered Google to pay a former politician 715,000 Australian dollars ($515,000) over two defamatory YouTube videos.

John Barilaro, the former New South Wales state deputy premier, had sued Google and comedian Jordan Shanks, also known as friendlyjordies, in the Federal Court over the videos.

Justice Steven Rares found Barilaro had been the “subject of a relentless, racist, abusive and defamatory campaign conducted on YouTube,” a platform owned by Google.

Barilaro told reporters outside the Sydney court that he felt “vindicated” by the judgment.

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“I am emotional today. To hear His Justice read out the reasoning and the evidence and the case itself again is a little bit traumatizing,” Barilaro said.

“But I’m happy it’s the end of the journey. You’ve got to be either courageous or stupid to take on Google, and maybe it was a bit of both,” Barilaro added.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

His lawyer Paul Svilans said it was the only case he was aware of where Google was sued for defamation through its YouTube operation.

Barilaro would not have sued if Google had taken down the videos, uploaded in September and October in 2020, as requested by letter in December of that year, he said.

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“Once they get our letter and we say it is defamatory, it is racist, you should take it down and they don’t take it down, then they’re on the hook just like any other publisher,” Svilans said.

“They are a trillion dollar company that facilitated the publication of horribly racist material about John,” Svilans said.

The videos had been viewed tens of thousands of times and earned Google thousands of dollars, the judge said.

Google eventually abandoned all of its defenses against Barilaro’s suit. A four-day hearing in March only focused on the amount of damages that Google would pay. Legal costs will be awarded at a later date.

Barilaro’s case against Shanks was settled in November last year when the comedian and political commentator issued an apology, agreed to pay AU$100,000 ($72,000) and edited the videos.

Shanks’ campaign had been cited as a reason for Barilaro’s decision to retire from politics last year.

Rares, the judge, said Google repeatedly failed to take responsibility for its conduct as a publisher.

Google is fighting in Australia’s highest court a Victoria state court decision that its search engine had defamed Melbourne underworld lawyer George Defteros.

Defteros successfully sued Google for AU$40,000 ($28,800) in 2020 because the search engine directed traffic to a 2004 article published in The Age newspaper that reported he had been charged with conspiracy and incitement to murder gangland figures.

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The charges were dropped in 2005.

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