Page last updated at 16:44 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 17:44 UK

Google's content trial delayed

Google with a microphone
Google says the case stifles net freedoms

An Italian court has delayed a case against search giant Google, which could have major ramifications for content providers around the globe.

At the heart of the case is a debate about how much responsibility providers have for the content on their sites.

It centres around a video, posted on Google Italy, which showed a teenager with autism being bullied.

The case was delayed because an interpreter was ill and will now be resumed in September.

Four Google executives are accused of defamation and violating privacy, under Italian law, for allowing the video to be posted online.

Prosecutors argue that Google did not have adequate content filters or enough staff to monitor content.

They also argue that the content, which showed the teenager being bullied by four students in front of more than a dozen others, was uploaded without the consent of all parties involved.

If the judge rules that videos posted to sites such as YouTube or Dailymotion do need the permission of all those appearing in it before it is posted, it will have a huge impact on social media sites viewable in Italy, said Nick Lockett, a partner with DL Legal.

"If that becomes law, then social video will move into full broadcast rights," he said

The video, posted on Google Video in 2006, shortly before the firm acquired YouTube, stayed on the site for several months before Google received complaints and removed it.

The four youths responsible for the bullying were consequently identified and sentenced to community service.

They were expelled for the remainder of the academic year from their school in Turin, northern Italy.

Internet freedom

The main plaintiff in the case is Vivi Down, an Italian support group for people with Down's syndrome.

On trial are Google's senior vice president and chief legal Officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes, senior product marketing manager Arvind Desikan, and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer.

They face up to three years in prison if found guilty.

Google has argued that the case hits at the heart of internet freedom and will be unenforceable if it calls for providers to pre-screen the thousands of videos that are uploaded to sites such as YouTube every day.

In a statement, issued ahead of the case, the firm said: "We feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong. It's akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post."

"As we have repeatedly made clear, our hearts go out to the victim and his family. We are pleased that as a result of our cooperation the bullies in the video have been identified and punished," it said.

Mr Lockett thinks it is a fascinating case and the verdict could threaten the existence of sites such as YouTube.

"If you were to require Google to proactively assess all its videos, YouTube would disappear overnight," he said.

Correction 24 Feb 2010: This story has been amended since it was first published. The original story suggested that the bullied teenager had Down's Syndrome, not autism.

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