Google lawyers begin closing arguments in Italian trial

Lawyers for Google rejected the idea that the company had legal responsibility for a controversial bullying video posted on its Italian video site as they began their closing arguments Wednesday in the privacy trial of four Google executives.

"It's the person who uploads the video to Internet who must seek the consent of the person represented in the images. Google can't do that," lawyer Giuseppe Vaciago told the Milan court.

David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, Peter Fleischer, its global privacy counselor, George Reyes, the former chief financial officer, and Arvind Desikan, former head of Google Video Europe, are charged with defamation and violation of privacy for having allowed the posting of a mobile-phone video showing the harassment of an autistic youth by classmates on Google Video in Italy.

Prosecutors have requested prison sentences for the four executives ranging from six months to one year, though any penalty under three years would be automatically suspended.

"It's not possible to ask Google Inc., which manages the Google Video service, to obtain the consent of a third party, and in this case of the handicapped boy. It's the person who uploads the video who must do so," Vaciago was quoted as telling the court by the ANSA news agency.

The legal contract covering the uploading of material onto Google Video specified at the time that customers using the site were responsible for obtaining the prior consent of individuals featured in the films, Vaciago told Judge Oscar Magi.

The concept was reiterated by Vaciago's colleague, Giuseppe Bana, who is due to continue his closing arguments Dec. 23.

"They put forward the thesis that I was expecting and which I don't agree with," said Guido Camera, a lawyer representing Vividown, the charitable organization that first drew attention to the video in September 2006.

"The Google lawyers also stressed the fact that Google had reached an out-of-court financial settlement with the father of the handicapped boy," Camera said in a telephone interview. "They were the defense arguments that had already emerged in the course of the trial and that don't alter the fundamental judgment," Camera said.

Giuliano Pisapia, a third Google lawyer who is due to address the court on Dec. 23, said Google's position was that Italian law did not apply to Google, the company that actually processed the video, but that Google had in any case satisfied all the requirements of Italian law. "Whether Italian law was applicable or not, there was no crime committed by Google," Pisapia said in a telephone interview.

The teacher responsible for the class of the Turin school where the bullying incident occurred is currently on trial in Turin for negligent complicity in personal violence and insults, while the four minors responsible for harassing their classmate have already served a sentence of community service in a home for handicapped youths.

One of the Google defendants, Peter Fleischer, said a guilty verdict in the trial might embolden politicians to broaden Web 2.0 companies' editorial liability, making their activities economically unviable. "It's an attack on a decade of progress," he said in an interview with The New York Times published Monday.

"Imagine the consequences if every data protection decision can be second-guessed by a public prosecutor with little knowledge of privacy law," Fleischer wrote in a Nov. 24 blog posting. "I guess you can see why I have been advised not to set foot in Italy."

The verdict in the case is scheduled for Jan. 27.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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