Google Italy Could Face Criminal Charges Over Video

Italian prosecutors are wrapping up an investigation that could see four Google executives charged for failing to block the posting of a video of a disabled teenager being bullied on the company's video service.

If Google is prosecuted, it could represent an interesting challenge to the E.U.'s E-commerce Directive, which states that service providers are not required to monitor content flowing over their networks or pre-screen content posted on their services.

If charges are filed, the case could prove "dangerous for the future of user-generated content," said Stefano Hesse, head of communications for Google in southern Europe, on Monday.

The clip, which is about three minutes long, depicts four youths harassing a boy and eventually hitting him in the head with a pack of tissues. It was posted in September 2006 and removed by Google a few hours later in the wake of a complaint from the Italian Interior Ministry, which has a department that investigates Internet-related crime, Hesse said. In its brief time online, the video garnered around 12,000 hits.

The complaint originated from a Down Syndrome advocacy group called Vividown. Turin prosecutors are considering criminally charging the executives with defamation and violation of privacy. Those who participated in the bullying have also drawn prosecutors' attention.

Google maintains that it is not required to screen content before it is posted, which complies with the E-commerce Directive, Hesse said. Google routinely removes material that violates its terms of service and also does so at the request of law enforcement, Hesse said.

Google's London office said in a statement that it will work to demonstrate to Italian prosecutors that Google employees were not responsible.

"While we would like to restate our solidarity with the family of the boy and with the Vividown association, we strongly believe that these proceedings are not about Google Video and what happened but about the Internet as we know it, an open and free environment," the statement said.

Google Video is a service that offers a search engine for video content on the Web and a place where users can upload content. It is different than Google's YouTube service, but the search engine indexes YouTube content.

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