Google Executives on Trial in Italy

According to reports in the New York Times, four Google executives are on trial in Milan for charges of defamation and privacy violation regarding a video posted on Google’s Italian website.

The case pertains to a three-minute cell phone video posted in 2006 to Google Video of four Italian youths teasing a boy with Down syndrome. Google quickly removed the video from the site after an Italian advocacy group declared that the video was objectionable.

Prosecutors in the case contend that the video should not have been posted at all. The case raises the question of whether Internet companies that allow users to post content should screen items before they are published. This has come up before in the United States, particularly with regard to copyrighted music and video, and was certainly an issue when Google purchased YouTube in 2006.

If the court decides that Google should have prevented the publication of the video, there could be broad implications. In Europe, the subject of a video or photograph has the right to dictate how it is used. So far, charges have not been brought against user-generated content sites for hosting pictures without permission of the subjects.

Google released a statement stating that the prosecution was misdirected: “We feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong. It’s akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post. What’s more, seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open Internet. We will continue to vigorously defend our employees in this prosecution.”