Four Google (NSDQ: GOOG) execs, including its own chief legal officer, stand trial today in an Italian case that could break two new boundaries. David Drummond, privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, ex CFO George Reyes and an unnamed London-based Google Video exec appear in Milan, accused of defamation and privacy violation, after a 2006 incident in which a video was posted to Google Video depicting Italian youths mocking a Turin boy with Down syndrome.
Google removed the video at the the time after an advocacy group, Vividown, complained, but prosecutors argue the video should not have appeared in the first place. The case is noteworthy because defeat for Google would suggest internet companies should screen user-generated content before it is published (a model Google has forcefully lobbied against) and because the executives themselves, and not their employer, are in the dock. Computing SA magazine: "They face up to a maximum of 36 months if convicted on the charges."
Google's statement (via NYT): "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."
Meanwhile today, a French court has also ordered the Big G to pay 350,000 to two travel firms, for allowing rivals to buy keyword search ads using their trademarks, but Google says the onus to obey the law is on the ad buyers and is appealing (via Register). Google has endured a rock journey around Europe's disparate national courts - in April, French TV network TF1 sued YouTube; two months later, Spain's Telecinco sued the site. In 2007, Belgium stopped Google News crawling newspapers' websites for headlines and story excerpts.
By Robert Andrews