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Google convictions a step too far?

February 24th, 2010
04:21 PM ET

The conviction of three Google executives by an Italian judge over a video that was uploaded to their video platform raises serious questions about Internet freedom.

The video, which showed students bullying an autistic classmate, was removed by Google hours after Italian police notified them in 2006.

But the judge found the three guilty of breaking the country’s privacy laws because the company had not sought the consent of all the parties involved before the video was posted. Prosecutors argued that the protection of human beings must prevail over business logic.

The students in the video were reportedly expelled from their school in Turin, northern Italy.

The Web giant said it would appeal the Milan court's decision because the three men "had nothing to do with the video in question" and for its implications on Internet freedom and censorship.

It argued that the company had not breached European law which protects Internet service providers (ISPs) as long as they remove illegal content once notified of its existence.

During the trial it said pre-moderating all user-generated video on its YouTube video-sharing service was impossible.

In a blog post, Google’s vice president Matt Sucherman said if YouTube and other social networks are held responsible for the text, photos, and videos uploaded to them, "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."

Is it a step too far to expect firms to be liable for all content on their site? Or is a bold attempt to “police” the Internet?


Filed under:  General
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Jeremy

    just another way of the government to try and take back the right of Freedom of speech from the people just like china dose just at a slower pace to try and make people not notice

    February 24, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  2. Lilly

    Not long ago there was no Youtube or anything like it and the earth hummed along nicely. The idea that the internet would cease to exist is complete nonsense and if it requires watching people getting tortured for it's existence then it should be allowed to die. I agree with the judges.

    February 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  3. Usman

    The decision is ludicrous! Even the protection of human beings, as the prosecutors put it, has to be balanced against the costs of business and the standard of reasonableness. Clearly neither the prosecution nor the judge in this case have a clue of what they are pushing for here. What they want is impossible... either Google would have to pay inordinate amounts of money to "police" content prior to it being made public, thus slowing technology down to a snails pace, or it would simply turn off the tap to the entire country. As a business decision, the second is the only one a responsible CEO could do.

    February 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  4. Maven

    Just out of curiosity, has there EVER been a SINGLE CASE of a comment making it past Moderation?

    February 24, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  5. Ryan

    Way too far. Convicting the 3 is about the same as blaming G.W. Bush for 9/11.

    February 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  6. Antonio

    Once more a few judges in Italy look for attention in the media domestically and internationally. After that they might be ready for a promising career in politics. It is very sad to see this spectacle repeat it self so often.

    February 24, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  7. Rick Tardif

    Its about time that posters are made responsible for their actions.
    If every posting to a service provider needs aprovial, it would affect the services- especially in the social web. If the individuals who post things which are offensive or illegal, the person who posted the content needs to be held accountable- not the ISP which is only the infrastruktur that people can use.
    Placing blame on google is like blaming the city that builds roads for drunken drivers. I don't see the public works being blamed for bad drivers- the responsibility rest with the man/woman behind the wheel and not the person who built the street.

    February 24, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  8. John Dinwiddie

    If I understand this correctly, I'm completely on Google's side,
    a no brainer. The crime itself is despicable, is the most widely
    tolerated crime in our society. Bullying. Look at the deeper
    psychological strata of the split in this country, and you will
    find its tolerance a component. Bullies should be removed
    from the general population of schools, put into special education
    facilities that include intensive therapy, for their parents as well.

    Of course this is earth, not heaven. Nothing of the sort is going
    to happen. Instead, they'll often grow up to be criminals and bad
    cops.

    February 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  9. Marco

    Italian judges ignorance makes every "normal" Italian feel small. Yes, actually I think it's simply ignorance that led judges to this decision: they simply don't know that they are talking about, and maybe they mistaken YouTube for something like a tv channel (you see moving images on both, don't you?)
    But in fact it's like if somebody makes a threatening phone call, and the phone company was considered a partner in crime. I'd say it'is a million step too far...

    February 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  10. Mike

    Wow. So in Italy if a newspaper publishes a picture they have to get the consent from everyone in the picture? Must be a lot of work, particularly overseas. Do Italian reporters in Vancouver have to get signed permission slips from everyone in any picture they use? Sounds silly, but that's where they're headed.

    February 24, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  11. Don Themon

    Being convicted when no law was broken by a judge, seems to be out of character of someone with the control of the output. if I were one of these convicted victims, I would have gone to the government and ask the conviction be over turned and the judge removed, or Google might become unavailable in Italy.

    February 24, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  12. dr André Kruger

    So are they now going to prosecute paper manufacturers for what some idiot decides to print on their product?

    February 24, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  13. Alberto

    Usman, you say that "even the protection of human beings has to be balanced against the cost of business and the standard of reasonableness". Do you actually believe that the profit margin of a company is worth even one human life?

    No wonder we are destroying our planet, and killing thousands for corporate profit. Companies are there to make a profit for owners, and advance humanity – when those two conflict, humanity must always come first. – By the way, I like profit as much as anyone, I just don't believe in lowering financial costs by raising human costs.

    February 24, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  14. Sang-Hyun Jongeleen

    I personally think if you can call it liabitity Goolge could not be counted responsbile, disclaimers and terms in usuage have generated a secure ground to get a grip in most situations.

    this time a user is posting an item and even if Google can control the situation it's unable to check all stuff out before posting. the internet has a large amount of users and there's no way to control each to control or curb a posted item.

    I personally think that we go to a new chapter of law that could intergrate internet just like printed media.

    Google can refer that it's employees are not responsible and can't for all content posted whatsoever. I am suprised it draws so much speculation.

    the internet shouldn't be out of this transparancy and we cannot think of just more rules of the individual.

    I think they can't be tried for just a posted item, but should review it when it's noticed.

    February 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  15. Jimmie

    Clearly they haven't heard of the controversal trial against thepiratebay.org in Sweden. It's the exact same thing, same arguments, just different contents. "something like this has never happened before!" Get your facts straight before you open your mouth!

    February 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  16. Xa

    just the corrupt italian system at work..i guess the judge expected a bribe for not passing the conviction

    February 24, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  17. Phill

    Italians rights are not the same as ours, we in America need to learn our freedoms are very much restricted everywhere we go Ally or not. Therefor it is completely fair that for google.it new measures be put in place for safeguards

    February 25, 2010 at 12:01 am | Reply
  18. Bernhard

    if this is the way to stop doing business without taking responsibility for the way they do, then it is the right way.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:02 am | Reply
  19. asiseeit

    If a story get published in a newspaper the editor is risponsable ; so why should contens made available through internet be exempt from scrutiny?
    Regardless if you agree with the judges or not I think there should be a way to filter information over the internert.
    Posting that video was a matter of bad taste,but if someone was risponsable for allowing it is only fair that they should accept the consequences.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:34 am | Reply
    • JD

      Asiseeit:
      Apples and oranges. An editor of a newspaper is liable precisely because they *can* filter content. Nothing gets published in a paper unless the editor authorizes it.

      Applying similar restrictions on user-generated content posted online is both impractical and would make the internet a place where (like newspapers) only those with sufficient money or influence can have their voices heard.

      February 25, 2010 at 10:19 am | Reply
  20. vizi

    We should keep Google within US , and not let it spoil other nation peace.
    They are simply a monopolistic company and very sad products .
    Manipulative search engine

    February 25, 2010 at 12:50 am | Reply
  21. a Non-Italian

    I seem to recall a Joke about being in hell and Italians organizing things.
    Another success Italians Job in protecting criminals first,

    February 25, 2010 at 12:51 am | Reply
  22. Caspar

    Easy. Cut off the lines to Italy and China and leave them as they will. They simply don't deserve the freedom of internet.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:29 am | Reply
  23. R. Panotes

    Pretty dumb jurisprudence. While he's at it, the judge and prosecutor should also convict the culprit's parents for bringing him into this world, the president of the phone company or ISP that he used, the manufacturer and seller of his computer, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and everybody else associated with technology.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:34 am | Reply
  24. JD

    Lilly... This isn't about bullying (or, as you so colorfully stated, "torture"). And it's not just the effect it'd have on YouTube that's at issue. The standard the judges are applying in this case could have a chilling effect on the free posting/dissemination of all user-created content (be it video, still images, or written communications).

    "...the company had not sought the consent of all the parties involved..."

    It is imossible for an ISP and/or website (which is neither present nor aware of the user-created content at the time of its creation) to identify and seek out consent from every person who may be involved and/or identifiable in any given medium before allowing it be posted on (or otherwise disseminated through) their servers. Additonally, if it it *were* possible – there will always be times when consent will be intentionally withheld.

    What if CNN (and it's employees) could be found criminally liable for allowing people to post images and video (iReport) of the Iranian Green-movement protests – because the Basij (Iranian paramilitary) in the videos didn't give prior consent?

    February 25, 2010 at 2:15 am | Reply
  25. Tom Weller

    I think the proper position to be taken is this...Once the Internet host has been advised about inappropriate material on its site....then it does have a responsibility to examine, and delete the material.

    If the material is left on the site after such notification then the host should be subject to legal actions.

    In the future it will probably become necessary for Internet hosts to have a designated ombudsman to deal with such matters

    February 25, 2010 at 2:32 am | Reply
  26. Tamas

    I can see where the judges are coming from in their reasoning and I also agree that before youtube the world still existed. But I feel like only those people who actually uploaded the video broke the law.

    It seems fallacious to me to argue that due to the INACTION of the youtube/google employees the law was broken because one of the bases of Western law is that INACTION is the default unless the law explicitly requires action.

    For example, if you see somebody being mugged, you are not legally responsible if you do not help the victim.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:44 am | Reply
  27. The Family Pet

    No Prob. Unplug YouTube from Italy. They lose by winning.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:27 am | Reply
  28. Daniel Merritt

    Wait, are they being convicted because the video contained footage of the autistic classmate being bullied, and this was a problem for the autistic classmate – or because the video contained the bullying, was posted without the permission of the bullies, and the bullies were expelled from school as a result? The article isn't clear.

    Either way this is a crazy decision.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:53 am | Reply
  29. CenterUS

    Get used to it Google. More to come from French government. Sick of Google robbing little guys. It is about time someone punish them for their ignorance and arrogance.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:58 am | Reply
  30. Patrick

    Without the Video, these kids would have kept on beating the poor kid!

    February 25, 2010 at 4:10 am | Reply
  31. Dwayn

    I think that the decision the judge made in this case was based purely on pressure recieved from the families involved and even perhaps the local community.Google has basically shaped the way we use the internet today and I don't think that anyone at the search engine giant would do a single thing to impact the way our freedom is expressed on the Internet in a negative way.The fact that the video was removed as soon as they were notified to remove it shows understanding in this situation.Go ahead Goggle and appeal,I am quite convinced you will win because the world is far too diverse for this decision to have any lasting effect.

    February 25, 2010 at 6:50 am | Reply
  32. Joe

    italy will lose

    February 25, 2010 at 7:16 am | Reply
  33. Valya

    Simply next arrival on Google. To not like someone their freedom.

    February 25, 2010 at 7:22 am | Reply
  34. Bart

    Italian rulings are typically no celebrations of levelheadedness. Look out Italian paper mills, because the words written on your paper might get you in trouble... Who's next in the Italian line for accountability in the Google case.. the power supplier?

    February 25, 2010 at 7:54 am | Reply
  35. Ag

    to those of you who say content should be monitored, well who has the right to say what should be posted and what shouldn't??? (in this case the bullying was no ok), but let's say you have a moderator who thinks that perhaps showing pictures of the Haiti victims is inappropriate and those wouldn't be shown, or a riot taking place is inappropriate, so the the public shouldn't see it via the internet. Big brother watching...

    February 25, 2010 at 8:22 am | Reply
  36. col

    The protection of the individual over large corporations must always come first. The lobby that thinks this is just about internet freedom is wrong. The italians are light years more civilised than the Americans with their fourteenth century god, guns and greed culture.

    February 25, 2010 at 9:12 am | Reply
  37. Volker

    What's internet freedom anyway? A right or a privilege? There is nothing wrong preventing internet anarchy.

    February 25, 2010 at 9:24 am | Reply
  38. CeeJay

    "The Family Pet February 25th, 2010 327 GMT

    No Prob. Unplug YouTube from Italy. They lose by winning.

    Great Idea......please unplug the UK as well.

    February 25, 2010 at 9:49 am | Reply
  39. Francois

    This is really outrageous. I agree that Google cannot just do what they want, but convicting three random people is just not right and shows the direction we are all heading.

    February 25, 2010 at 10:38 am | Reply
  40. Sergius

    its ridiculous..since when are executives of a company made responsible for uploaded videos? the idiots who produced/uploaded the video are the only ones responsible. the execs removed it as soon as they were aware of the video right? i mean think of the 3 executives getting convicted when im sure they had no idea about its existence.

    February 25, 2010 at 11:06 am | Reply
  41. Paolo

    It's more complicated than people think. You can't just post anything on the internet. Pedoporn is dealt with immediately and criminally, Jihad stuff, Nazi stuff as well.

    Racist, abusive comments on any news website are moderated, even if the websites' disclaimers are ridiculously cautious. Right now I'm writing beside one of them.

    Downloading Mussolini's speeches on IPods got stopped.

    Total freedom is just utopistic, because it goes inevitably to hurt someone else. The mere fact that Google "acted immediately" to remove the video after it was made aware is a total contradiction with their stance: if you have to remove it, why allow someone post it?

    Finally, the Google guy's comment, comparing the video to someone's letter full of insults posted via normal mail just doesn't stand: the video is PUBLIC, for anyone to see.

    On the other hand, it is true that it is nigh impossible to draw a line: where? Who decides?

    So, I recommend everyone not to make of this an ideological issue (left vs. right), but to appreciate the full complexity of the problem

    February 25, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  42. Antje Hages

    It is not an limitation of liberties. It merely puts responsibilty with the publisher. He must make sure all laws and rights are respected. This implies publishing rights too. This where it is with newspapers and such too.
    Much content on these websites is totally disresptful to the people in the films who most of time have not agreed to publish their portrait or images. If you check the youtube form you will become aware how difficult it is to regain control over your rightful images. It is a disgrace!
    That it would be too much work is not an excuse. Of course it nice to get everything for free. That is how they still can make money from it. The best thing is to charge money for publishing and have paid people monitor the incoming content. If it is too expensive nothing is lost. It is not a life necessity. If it is all that important people who want to publish can still do so through a paid hosting-account.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  43. Rich Renouf

    Before the days of Google and the Internet there were several BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) like OneNet and FIDOnet whose operators communicated via telephone lines from one city to another by sending small packets of digital information at speeds were so slow that it would take a full 24 hours to pass a message around the world. A few corporate sponsors helped financially in passing the messages from continent to continent. Freedom of information was the foundation of these early systems – if you typed it – you owned it and NO BBS owners had the right to change or remove messages under penalty of being bypassed by all of the other BBS administrators. This FOUNDATION is the very HEART of the Internet. Italy needs to decide whether they want to be a team player and NOT "require" ANY restrictions on the WORLD's right to communicate.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  44. Papo123

    This is ridiculous. It is like one of the Google people said, It is like sending the mailman to prision because he delivered a package containing drugs! in all cases the one who sent it should be the one going to prision, same a as here, that ruling should have sent to prision the video uploaders. I understand google statement, cuz the same way the mail delivery system cannot serch and scan every single one of the mail that go thru it, google cant do the same with the videos uploaded to it.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  45. Vincenzo

    To understand the sentence it is important to understand two things: 1) the general tech ignorance that Italian elders have regarding the Iternet and B) ***more importantly***, the anti-internet leaning by the current Italian government.

    When a government (read Berlusconi) relies on his control of the media to stay afloat, and people need to go on the Net to discover basic facts about their country (like watching Berlusconi making a gaffe at some international meeting, or knowing what the last corruption charge is actually about) you can understand how the internet becomes a PitA for those in power.

    To this, add that Berlusconi is also a media mogul, and it becomes easy to understand how, for him, Internet is actually a double-PitA.

    True, one of the catchphrases of the current Italian government is "Fight the Communists!" – whatever it means – and this kind of decision places us nearer to Communist China than to anything else. But remember that the same Berlusconi has Putin – ex KGB higher-up – among his best friends. For the current government, it is "communist" only as long as you don't profit from it.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  46. Doogle

    I like Italians...but unfortunately, Italians suffer from their own politicians and judges. I suppose we all do to a certain extent. It's too bad this judge cannot be tried for being just plain stupid. Maybe this judge is planning to enter politics next...

    February 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  47. Chris Barber

    I don't find this to be going too far at all. Accountability has simply become a talking point for press conferences, not a practice. According to other news sources, many viewers had flagged the video months before this incident occured. Google had ample warning to review the content and act properly but for one reason or another failed to do so.

    Google took it upon themselves to create the site. They made it possible for people to download content onto their site and then let people all around the world view this content. At what point does the responsibility of monitoring this site become Google's? If the public did their job by flagging this video, shouldn't Google do their job at this point by removing it?

    If I decided to start my own newspaper and allowed the public to openly and annonymously write articles about anything and everything, and one of those people wrote a defamatory article about a neighbor, I am still held liable because it was my newspaper.

    If the argument is that this was shot in public and because of this there is no right to privacy, then what about the right to avoid further humiliation by having viewers around the world see you get bullied and have your disability made fun of?

    I know that corporations have feelings too and are just trying to 'get by' like everyone else, but if I make a mistake, I am held accountable for that mistake. What puts Google above accountability?

    February 26, 2010 at 3:50 am | Reply
  48. arvind pathak

    privacy of an individual is sacrosanct ,however any aberration in human acts and behaviour which go against humane ,human values of not causing mental,physical ,social hurt is a crime and should be dealt with legal retribution to uphold justice ,rule of law safeguarding individual's right to live free and fearlessly .as far as question of being ashamed as a victim of being bullied ,yes is possible if there is no retributive ,punitive action taken against the perpetrators of the act of bullying which itself is wrong against a normal human,makes it heinous in nature against a mentally,physically weak individual due to his disease.honorable italian justice chose the persons who brought this to the notice of us ,the homo-sapiens for retribution instead of being lauded for their action with aid of google.the criminals in this episode are the bullies and must be punished for causing mental emotional,anguish harm and lawfully too.this punishment given should be harsh and publicized throgh tv news internet print media.google is just an information media vehicle to report upon happenigs in society.,should not be held liable for doing their duty and doing it good,BRAVO GOOGLE.

    March 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Reply
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