Google responsible for video content, court rules

Three senior Google execs have been convicted by an Italian court of invading privacy, after a video of a schoolboy with Down’s Syndrome was posted online.

While none of the three was involved in either creating or uploading the video – Google says none of them had even seen it – prosecutors argued that it should have been removed more quickly.

David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, George Reyes, former chief financial officer, and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer were given six-month suspended sentences.

Arvind Desikan, Google’s senior product marketing manager, was acquitted.

The film showed a 17-year-old boy being abused by classmates, and was uploaded to Google Video in September 2006. After a complaint from Vivi Down, a Down’s support group, two months later, it was taken down within 24 hours.

The person responsible for uploading the video was sentenced to ten months’ community service after Google helped identify her.

Google has compared the case to prosecuting mail staff over hate mail being sent in the post. It also says the ‘astonishing’ decision attacks the freedom of the internet.

“European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy,” says Matt Sucherman, EMEA VP and Deputy General Counsel.

“If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.”

The company plans to appeal.