This one is outrageous:
Saul Hansell, NYT: Four executives of Google begin trial Tuesday in Milan on criminal charges of defamation and privacy violation in regard to a video posted on Google’s Italian site.
The case involves a three-minute mobile phone video, posted in 2006 to Google Video, in which four youths in Turin tease a boy with Down syndrome. After an Italian advocacy group complained that the video was objectionable, Google quickly removed it from the site. Prosecutors argue that the video should not have been published at all.
The four executives charged were not involved directly in handling video from Italy. They include David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer; George Reyes, its former chief financial officer; and Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, according to a Google spokesman. The fourth executive worked at Google Video in London, the spokesman said, declining to identify him.
It’s hard to know where to start, other than to say Google (GOOG) should probably refuse to do business in Italy. It’s one thing to decide that, henceforth, companies will be responsible for screening user-generated content. It is another to drag four senior executives who had no knowledge of or control over the video in question to a foreign country, charge them as criminals, and possibly throw them in jail.
George Reyes was Google’s chief financial officer, for goodness sake. What did he know about Google’s user-gen video policies in Italy? Same for Drummond and Fleischer. A civil trial, maybe, but a criminal one? And if you’re going to indict Reyes and Drummond for this, why aren’t Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin on trial, too? Why isn’t every senior executive of every international company on trial?
It would be unfortunate if companies were forced to screen user-gen content, because this would reduce the amount of content online and vastly increase the costs of operating sites like YouTube. If some countries want to force such screening, however, that’s up to them. But putting senior executives on trial in another country while criminalizing something in hindsight? Aren’t there laws against that?
Leaving aside the frightening ramifications for George, David, Peter, and the other Google exec, this one could really shake up the world of web 2.0:
If the court holds that Google should have prevented the publication of the video simply because the subject didn’t authorise it, it could have very broad implications. In Europe, the subject of a photograph or video typically has the right to say how the image is used. But so far, charges haven’t been brought against user-generated content sites for hosting pictures posted without permission of the subjects.
In a statement, Google said the prosecution is misdirected:
As we have repeatedly made clear, our hearts go out to the victim and his family. We are pleased that as a result of our cooperation the bullies in the video have been identified and punished. 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.