“Astonishing” Criminal Liability for YouTube Video

In another European case I’ve blogged about before (herehere, and here), yesterday an Italian court convicted three Google executives of criminal privacy violations in a case arising out of a 2006 YouTube video of the bullying of an autistic boy, posted to YouTube by his abusers.  The court imposed suspended three- to six-month sentences on three of the executives charged, acquitting them of defamation along with another executive facing only the defamation charge.  Google, which said it plans to appeal, called the result “astonishing.”  One of the convicted defendants–who is Google’s global privacy counsel–said “[t]he judge has decided I’m primarily responsible for the actions of some teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google video.” Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer and its chief financial officer were also convicted.  The Wall Street Journal article stated “[t]he trial could help define whether the Internet in Italy is an open, self-regulating platform or if content must be better monitored for abusive material.”

U.S. law, specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, would shield Google from liability because the actionable video was created and posted online by a third party. To put it in the language of Section 230,  Google would not be liable because it was not the video’s information content provider; it was not “responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of” the video.  U.S. law recognizes the impracticability–or impossibility–of screening tens of thousands of posts and other items created by Internet users.  This case, and the French case discussed in the prior post, show how far the Internet has come from that described in John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind . . .  You have no sovereignty where we gather . . . I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Or not.

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