Are Employees Responsible For Content On Their Websites?

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Are Employees Responsible For Content On Their Websites?

Four Google executives are facing criminal charges of defamation and privacy violation in Italy due to a video that was displayed on YouTube.

The offensive video is a 3-minute mobile phone video, which had been posted on YouTube in 2006. In this video, a boy with Down’s syndrome was being teased by his classmates in Turin.

People found this video objectionable and complained about it, following which Google responded by deleting it quickly. The prosecutors, however, felt that that was not enough, as the video should never have been allowed to be displayed.

The executives involved are David Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, George Reyes, former Chief Financial Officer, Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel for Google and Arvind Desikan, previous head of Google Video Europe.

The trial is being held in Milan and the executives may face up to 3 years in jail if found guilty. If that happens, it will not only mean that henceforth privacy laws will have to be taken very seriously, but it could also force a change in the way YouTube functions in Italy and the rest of Europe.

A thorny issue that will have to be reconsidered, as a result of a ruling against the Google executives in this case, will be whether or not Internet companies should screen content submitted by individuals before it is published.

In the United States, copyright laws so far do not punish online services if they respond quickly to complaints. Europe too has similar laws, but they are unclear about applicability to young people and certain private information.

If Google and its executives are held responsible for this video it will have very wide-ranging implications.

Google has said that their sympathies lie with the victim and his family, and they are happy the culprits have been identified due to their video and punished . However prosecuting Google would be like prosecuting mail services for hate mail. Also, holding Google responsible for content posted on their site is an attack on a free and open Internet and hence they will vigorously defend their employees.

The New york Times reports that the first hearing lasted only about five minutes and none of the defendants were present. The next hearing is scheduled for February 18.