Some shocking news reaches us via the Google blog today - apparently three Google employees have been convicted in an Italian court over a video uploaded to Google Video back in 2006. Scarily, they had nothing to do with it.
Writing on the blog, Google's VP and Deputy General Counsel Matt Sucherman described that some Italian school kids uploaded a video four years ago of them bullying an autistic peer. After being notified by Italian police, Google took the video down and aided them with details of the kid who uploaded it. So far, par for the course - you could say Google acted quickly and responsibly in the situation.
But unfortunately the story doesn't end there, as instead of being sent a bottle of Tuscan wine, four Google employees were slapped with charges "for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code" and criminal defamation. Pretty absurd, right?
To make matters worse, three of the four employees have just been convicted in a Milan court on the first charge, despite not having anything to do with uploading or removing it. Sucherman confirms on the blog that "they did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video's existence until after it was removed."
Google plans to appeal and defend the three men (one of which actually left the company in 2008), but is wary about the future of internet freedom.
"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."
I very much hope this can be sorted out, for Google and the sake of the three men, but also for the future of internet creativity and freedom. [Google Blog]