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Australian court orders Google to pay £411,000 over defamatory YouTube videos

An Australian court has ordered Google to pay a former politician 715,000 Australian dollars (£411,000) 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 Mr Barilaro had been the “subject of a relentless, racist, abusive and defamatory campaign conducted on YouTube”, a platform owned by Google.

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

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

Mr 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.

“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,” Mr Svilans said.

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

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

Former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro
Former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro (Bianca De Marchi/AAP Image via AP)

Google eventually abandoned all of its defences against Mr 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.

Mr Barilaro’s case against Mr Shanks was settled in November last year when the comedian and political commentator issued an apology, agreed to pay 100,000 Australian dollars (£57,000) and edited the videos.

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

Judge Rares said Google repeatedly failed to take responsibility for its conduct as a publisher.

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

Mr Defteros successfully sued Google for 40,000 Australian dollars (£23,000) 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.

The charges were dropped in 2005.

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