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By Mathew Schwartz

The criminal trial against four Google executives accused of defamation and privacy law violations resumed last month in Milan court. During a two-hour hearing on March 17, Google lawyers argued that the original complaint by the Vivi Down association, which helped launch the case, was invalid since the association’s president had not first secured the backing of his board of directors. However, presiding judge Oscar Magi ruled that the complaint was valid before adjourning.

On March 25, Magi considered Google arguments that the Milan court lacks jurisdiction in the case. Company lawyers proposed that the trial be moved to Turin, where the video at the heart of the case was recorded. Magi is expected to rule on jurisdictional issues when the trial resumes, April 21.

The trial stems from the 2006 posting to YouTube of a three-minute mobile-phone video showing a boy with Down syndrome being bullied by peers. While Google removed the video less than 24 hours after being alerted to its existence, an Italian prosecutor is prosecuting Google in part for allowing the video to remain online for two months.

At issue, say experts, is whether Web sites in Italy that host content should be liable for that content—akin to newspapers and television stations—or rather treated as Internet Service Providers, which face no liability providing they remove content in a timely manner after receiving an official take-down notice.

In February, the bullying victim withdrew from the case, citing satisfaction with Google’s response. That leaves both the municipality of Milan and Vivi Down, which had successfully petitioned the court (as permitted under Italian law) to add their civil suits to the criminal proceedings.

A third plaintiff to the case protests that Google searches of her name return links to news stories concerning corruption charges against her, but not her subsequent exoneration

One basis for her complaint is another made in July 2008 to the Italian Data Protection Authority (aka Garante) by an individual that his personal details were accessible through Google via a 1995 story (“Military Payoff, Nineteen Imprisonments”) in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. In December, the Garante ruled that the story should not be accessible directly from search engines external to Corriere.

Mathew Schwartz, a freelance journalist based in England, has covered information security issues for more than a decade. 

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