Incredible: Google Execs Found Guilty Because Of YouTube Video; Given Six Month Suspended Sentences

from the legal-world-gone-mad dept

This is just downright ridiculous. We see all sorts of jaw-dropping legal rulings around here, but I still can't fathom how Italian law allowed the following case to be decided in this manner. As you may recall, a couple years ago, Italian prosecutors filed criminal charges against four Google execs. What was the crime? Apparently, some kids had taunted another boy with Down's Syndrome, and filmed the whole episode. In the video, the kids apparently threw a tissue box at the boy. They then uploaded the video to YouTube, along with the countless other videos uploaded to the site. Nearly a year ago, YouTube noted that 20 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. To think that Google should automatically have knowledge of what's included in every video uploaded to YouTube is ludicrous.

But it's even more ridiculous when you realize the full story. Within hours of Google being alerted to the problems with the video, the video came down. In other words, the company acted promptly when questions about the video were raised. But, even more importantly, the video itself was used as evidence to punish the taunting teens. Now imagine if they hadn't been able to upload the video. Then the kids likely would have gotten away with the taunting, without anyone knowing about it. Why would you ever want to blame Google for providing a tool that allows stupid people to give proof of their own illegal activities? And even then, rather than filing a suit against Google the company, Italian prosecutors chose to file the lawsuit against four execs at the company, most of whom had nothing to do with the company's Italian operations.

You might think that a judge would toss this sort of lawsuit out really quickly, but that didn't happen, and now, amazingly, the court has found three of the four execs to be guilty and given them six month suspended jail sentences. I vaguely remember reading that "first time offenders" given prison sentences in Italy of three years or less get suspended sentences, so the suspended sentence part isn't surprising. But, of course, given how many videos are uploaded, it seems likely that there will be second, third and further offenses of this nature as well. It seems like Italy has just suggested Google block all access to YouTube, while also increasing the liability for pretty much any other company to operate there or have any foreign execs visit the country.

Honestly, I can't see how anyone would make a ruling in this manner and think that it makes sense. As I said when the case first came up, you would think that suing the execs of the company that made the tissue box would make more sense than suing Google's execs. Why not charge the execs of the company that made the camera that was used to film the incident? It's hard to hear about this ruling and not consider the Italian legal system to be a joke.

Filed Under: criminal charges, italy, liability, online video, youtube
Companies: google


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  1. identicon
    Cameron Boykin, 24 Feb 2010 @ 9:19pm

    Re: Sovereignty

    Let me first say that I appreciate the your comment, since it one of the most well written dissenting comments of this thread.

    However, I don't think your example actually demonstrates a need for pre-screening content. You are right that Alice would need to pay the $20 to prove the website had photos of her, but how would pre-screening content help? On what criteria do you a suggest a website filter images? As far as I can tell, two things would need to happen during the screening process: check the image for appropriate content, and gain permission of "all interested parties", to borrow your phrasing.

    Checking the image for illegal or inappropriate content would less important on a porn site, but the important questions of "illegal according to whom?" and "what should we regard as offensive?" still remain. Should a website administrator be required to respect all laws of all nations? In this case, porn could probably not legally exist, but even for more conservative sites, the burden of keeping up with the laws of their home country is more than enough to keep them busy. It's simply not practical, and would effectively force all websites to either prohibit user-generated content, or be at a very high risk of being sued. Not to mention that any content screening would have be done by actual people who would then have the final say on whether or not you are allowed your free speech (these people would surely be required to air on the side of caution and reject anything even remotely questionable).

    "Anyone can plainly see a reasonable policy goal in requiring that user-generated content be moderated and that all interested parties grant approval for it to be published."

    While reasonable in theory, how do you implement this online? In this case, assuming we define "all interested parties" as being who ever the "hot nude Italian girl" is in the photo being submitted, how can you reliably confirm the identity of the party granting approval? Any sort of electronic signature or ID can be forged or copied easily since it would be digital, and Bob in your example could easily have had access to Alice's physical identification (state ID, credit cards. etc) to make faxes or copies. As the site administrator, you really have no way of knowing for sure whether you've just received legitimate proof of identity, or the forgeries of a scorned boyfriend.

    As a side-note, if you consider the rising trend of identity theft in the physical world, despite the best efforts of banks, police, and government to prevent it, it's hard to see how you could expect to prevent identity theft online.

    I simply don't see how you can implement a content screening system that actually prevents dishonest and unscrupulous people from doing dishonest and unscrupulous things and with the intent of posting it online. The only reasonable method would be simply to have no one post anything online. It may be a country's sovereign right to enact a law that attempts to do this, but that doesn't make it make practical or effective.

    P.S. I wonder why you are surprised that the "American society has accepted things like YouTube". I'm interested to know what the "things like YouTube" are that you refer to. Personally, I've found YouTube is an excellent source of instructional videos (with topics from cooking to racquetball to learning guitar), music videos, and original content (I've seen many independent animations and a few documentaries on the site). It's a way to experience and share video content that would have otherwise never been seen ( see: Randy Pausch's incredibly moving final lecture http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo ).I'd hate to see such a magnificent resource be denied to Italians because of some insensitive teenage bullies.

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