Legal trouble for Google in Italy

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An Italian court has ruled that three Google executives are criminally responsible for a video posted on the company's online sharing service. The video showed an autistic boy being bullied. Anchor Marco Werman finds out more about the case from The World's technology correspondent Clark Boyd.

MARCO WERMAN: As we mentioned earlier, internet giant Google took a legal hit yesterday in Italy. A court ruled that three Google executives were criminally responsible for a video posted on the company's online sharing service. The video showed an autistic boy being bullied. Google removed it from its site soon after being notified by Italian authorities, but by then the video had been on the site for two months. The World's technology correspondent Clark Boyd is here with me. And Clark, Google says they're shocked by this. What's going on?

CLARK BOYD: Well, from the company's point of view, they have a right to be shocked. They have three major executives for the company, none of whom are actually in Italy, who have been sentenced here and who have been convicted in this Italian Court. Let's get some reaction from Google here. One of their senior communications managers who was actually there for the verdict in Milan made the point that these executives, they didn't upload this film, they didn't film it, they didn't review it, and yet they have been found guilty and so as a company they have some problems with this. They also asked D.J. Collins who is Google's Director of Public Policy in Europe for his reaction and he put it in the context of Italy. Let's hear what he had to say.

D.J. COLLINS: Obviously it raises very big questions about the internet in Italy because any website that any user uploads any form of content to, it doesn't have to be a big professional website like Google Video, it could be a community bulletin board, the employees or the people that run those websites could well be held criminally liable for that content.

BOYD: So Marco, Google's concern is not just Italy. Google's concern is that that sets some sort of legal precedent that other European Union countries might look at and even countries outside the European Union might look at that would be holding this company responsible for the literally thousands of hours of video that it hosts. We wanted to get some reaction to that, so we got a hold of Jonathan Zitron who is with Harvard Law School and here is what he had to say.

JONATHAN ZITRON: We've seen a couple instances over the years in which a particular country has gone after one of the multinational internet service providers or intermediaries, but it's still pretty rare that you see a government particularly invoking criminal sanctions against the executives of a company simply because bad things have happened within their platform.

WERMAN: That's Jonathan Zitron a cyber law expert at Harvard Law School. Clark, what difference is this ruling going to make, do you think for internet freedom?

BOYD: That's an awful big question, Marco. I think it's way too early to sort of say what does this mean for internet freedom in general, but Google has obviously said that they're going to appeal this verdict in Italy; they're going to fight it. It should be noted that the actually conviction is their six month suspended jail sentences, so their employees wouldn't actually serve any time in Italian jails, but I think in principle they're going to fight it. In that fight they have the backing of other major internet companies who have come out against this, internet freedom groups have come out against this ruling and indeed, quite a few people who follow internet freedom in Italy have come out against this ruling as well.

WERMAN: At least in Italy, for users of Google owned You Tube it's got to have a stifling effect.

BOYD: Well actually Marco, one of the more interesting wrinkles to this story, at least from my point of view looking at it as the technology correspondent is that Google often relies upon the users themselves to police this kind of material; to let the company know and to let others know that they don't want this on the site. And in this case, this video was up for two months before it was flagged as being inappropriate. And I have to say that one of the more disturbing elements of this is the fact that a lot of the comments regarding the video that were up there for a long time were very positive. It was regularly voted one of the most entertaining Google videos in Italy during the two months that it was up there.

WERMAN: Disheartening indeed. Clark Boyd, The World's technology correspondent, thank you.

BOYD: You're welcome Marco.