Jun 212009

What is almost certain to be a landmark court case on internet privacy and the liability of hosting sites starts tomorrow in an Italian court with Google executives as the defendants.

The case began in 2006, when four boys in Turin verbally and physically harassed a classmate with Down’s Syndrome. The boy was so upset that he soiled his pants. One of the four perpetrators who had filmed some of the episode, uploaded it to Google Video, where it was viewed by thousands of people until Google removed it two months later.

Four Google executives were subsequently charged by an Italian prosecutor: David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, Peter Fleischer, its top privacy executive, George Reyes, former chief financial officer, and Arvind Desikan, a senior product marketing manager. They are charged with criminal defamation against the disabled boy and with breaching the Italian privacy code. They face up to three years in prison if convicted.

In March, an Italian court ruled that Italy was the proper venue for the case, and in April, a judge rejected Google’s argument that a lawyer representing the Vivi Down association had been legitimately appointed.

In its defense, Google has claimed that it removed the video as soon as it was alerted to its objectionable content by the Italian police and Down Syndrome association. But whereas U.S. law does not hold a publisher liable for content posted on the site by users, European law has a different approach. Should Google executives be convicted, it may mean that sites that host user-uploaded content may have to rethink how they will monitor for compliance with EU law or other non-U.S. law.

The Peninsula has more.

Note: See the sidebar in the Internet news section for links to additional news stories on the trial as they become available.

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