A landmark decision in Australia has found that Google was not responsible for misleading advertising that was run on its search site.

The high court decision upheld an appeal from Google in response to a federal court ruling last year that found it responsible for misleading advertising that a number of companies took out in bids to hijack traffic from Google searches of competitors’ brands and products.

The case, led by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), centers around search ads from 2006 and 2007, and includes ads run by Honda Australia competitor CarSales. At the time, a search for ‘Honda Australia’ produced ads and links to CarSales which the ACCC believed to be misleading since it implied an affiliation between the two companies.

Today, the five High Court judges overturned the previous decision and ruled unanimously in favor of Google. A statement, published by Reuters, said:

Ordinary and reasonable users of the Google search engine would have understood that the sponsored links were created by advertisers. Such users would also have understood that representations made by the sponsored links were those of the advertisers, and were not adopted or endorsed by Google.

The ACCC case has been dismissed before. A Federal Court ruled against it in 2011, arguing that Google sufficiently distinguishes between organic search results and ads. However, four of those eleven cases were carried over to a 2012 appeal, in which the now-over-turned ruling placed the blame on Google.

A Google spokesperson provided the following comment:

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 in Australia. We have strict policies in place that require advertisers to comply with the law. If we are notified of a violation of our policies, we will remove the ads in question.

A statement from the ACCC said the consumer watchdog would “The ACCC will carefully review the judgment of the High Court to understand whether it has broader ramifications and will consider any consequences for enforcement of the Australian Consumer Law”.

Hat tip Reuters

Image via Toprankblog / Flickr