Melbourne man Milorad “Michael” Trkulja has won his high court battle to sue the search engine Google for defamation over images and search results that link him to the Melbourne criminal underworld.
Trkulja said he would continue legal action against Google until it removed his name and photos from the internet.
Trkulja, who was shot in the back in a Melbourne restaurant in 2004, successfully argued in the Victorian supreme court in 2012 that Google defamed him by publishing photos of him linked to hardened criminals of Melbourne’s underworld.
Four years later the Victorian court of appeal overturned the decision, finding the case had no prospect of successfully proving defamation.
|Australia’s high court has rules Milorad ‘Michael’ Trkulja has the right to sue Google for defamation. Photograph: Boris Roessler/EPA
The high court disputed that ruling in a judgment on Wednesday and ordered Google to pay Trkulja’s legal costs.
Trkulja said he would continue the legal action until he got the result he wanted.
“I will sue Google … and I will sue them til they stop. I want them to block my pictures,” he said. “I’m not a criminal, I’ve never been involved and I will make sure these people are not going to ruin my family – I have grandchildren.”
Google searches for “Melbourne criminal underworld photos” bring up images of Trkulja alongside gangland figures Mick Gatto, Carl Williams, Chopper Reid, Mario Condello and Mark and Jason Moran, Trkulja’s lawyer Guy Reynolds told the high court in March.
However, Google’s lawyers argued it would be “irrational” for someone to assume photos in a Google image search for underworld figures all showed criminals, because the same search would also bring up the Google logo, movie posters, images of crime victims and photos of actor Marlon Brando.
In a unanimous judgment led by the chief justice, Susan Keifel, the court said it was to be assumed someone searching for members of the Melbourne criminal underworld would “rationally suppose” the people whose pictures or names appeared, or at least some of them, were members of such.
The court found while it was clear some of those pictured, such as Brando, were not criminals, it could be concluded someone who was relatively unknown, such as Trkulja, could be connected with criminality or the underworld.
Trkulja also claimed defamation around Google’s “autocomplete” options for his name, which have included phrases like “is a former hit man”, “criminal” and “underworld”.
However, the court heard autocomplete was an automated function and that previous searches influenced future suggestions.
Comment is being sought from Google.The Guardian