Google execs charged in Italian court, held responsible for controversial video submission

An Italian court on Wednesday sentenced three Google executives to six months in prison because of a controversial video played repeatedly on its website.

Italian authorities requested the search engine giant, also the owner of Google Video, remove a 2006 clip in which a boy with Down syndrome is being bullied at school.

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Google promptly complied and helped law enforcement officials locate the video's filmers. But a group that represents Down syndrome patients ultimately said that was not enough and took the tech firm to court on the grounds it infringed on Italian privacy laws. Google argued in response that it should not be held responsible for videos posted by others on its website, just as the Post Office is not held responsible for hate mail it delivers unwittingly.

But a Milan judge disagreed. He sentenced three of the four Google executives named in the case to jail time, he told Reuters on Wednesday.

Later, in a blog post, Google railed on the decision, promised an appeal and predicted the ruling would set a dangerous precedent on internet freedom.

"In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload," said Matt Sucherman, one of the company's depute general counsels. "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."

"But we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built," he continued. "Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming."