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Italy's Hit on the Internet

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, February 24 2010

Credit: Photo of David Drummond by darthdowney

A rather, well, frankly, insane story from Italy, where four Google executives -- including well-known Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond -- have been convicted in an Italian criminal court over a video that showed a boy being taunted on a schoolyard that had been uploaded to and then deleted from YouTube, a Google product. From Deputy General Counsel Matt Sucherman, writing on the Google public policy blog:

In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload. We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.

As Sucherman points out, not only is the trial's outcome rather personally horrifying for Drummond and the other Googlers involved (the three got six month suspended sentences), it's also a pretty direct hit against the principles that govern the Internet as well, at least as far as the social web goes. Google moved to yank the video from YouTube after complaints, and you can begin to imagine the effect that what the Italian courts have done here on anyone who hosts a platform where content can be posted, from a blog platform to Twitter to... The effect is potentially very chilling.

Particularly when you take a look at, for example, the effect that British libel law has on what people are free to write and say all over the globe. There's a big debate taking place in the UK right at this very moment over "libel tourism" -- i.e., people who pursue libel claims in British courts because of that country's broad-brush laws on the topic, often based on the argument that what's perhaps not offensive in other places can be downloaded in the UK in an instant, thanks to the Internet. If Italy becomes the venue where online offenses that originate anywhere in the world can be prosecuted, you can begin to imagine how that plays out.

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