European courts giving Google headaches

Two surprising news bits from Google coming out of Europe this morning.

First, an Italian court sentenced three US-based Google executives to six-month prison terms because a video of students bullying a disabled boy was posted on Google Video.

Even stranger: Microsoft is putting Google in EU court for — wait for it — being a monopoly.

The first case, while unfortunate, is something Google has absolutely no control over. When they found out about the video, Google even helped authorities isolate the persons who uploaded the video which helped them convict a girl and her classmates.

In late 2006, students at a school in Turin, Italy, filmed and then uploaded a video to Google Video that showed them bullying an autistic schoolmate. The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police. We also worked with the local police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it and she was subsequently sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin, as were several other classmates who were also involved. In these rare but unpleasant cases, that's where our involvement would normally end.

But a public prosecutor went after Google and four employees who had nothing to do with the video (and didn't even know it existed until after it was removed). Somehow, a judge in Milan today convicted 3 of the 4 defendants -- David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes -- for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code.


(image via Engadget)

Google is obviously going to appeal the ruling, and its employees will likely get a suspended sentence -- but as Google points out, this ruling sets a dangerous precedent:

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. 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. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them -- every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video -- then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft and two other companies (one largely funded by Microsoft) filed complaints with the EU Commission last night. The complaints came from U.K. price comparison site Foundem, a French legal search engine called, and a German search site called Ciao that was recently acquired by Microsoft.

That's right: a Microsoft search site is suing Google for not indexing it as highly as it should. Surely, Microsoft products put Google right at the top of their search engine lists.

Google pointed out in its blog that Foundem (a price comparison site that competes with Google Shopping) is a member of a trade group called iComp, which is largely funded by Microsoft. Microsoft, as a competitor to Google has a significant interest in hurting it in the courts.

Microsoft is still dealing with its decade-long EU anti-trust violations which include its recent browser install ballot.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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