STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What was the case all about?
POGGIOLI: Well, in 2006, a group of high school students filmed and uploaded a clip to Google's video site showing them bullying a schoolmate with Down's Syndrome. The video shot up to the top of the most entertaining videos and was online for two months. An advocacy group complained to police, which notified Google, and the company took down the video within two hours. Prosecutors charged Google executives with liability and said they should have taken down the offensive content much sooner.
INSKEEP: Well, how is Google responding to the ruling?
POGGIOLI: Google will appeal and it described the decision as terrible and astonishing. It said it attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Spokesman Bill Echikson said the ruling raises serious questions about the viability of all user-generated content Web sites.
BILL ECHIKSON: This isn't just about Google either. This is about the Web. It's every social network. Even a community bulletin board would be impacted if the rule is, is that you have to preview all material that goes up on the Web. We think this is really a very important principle that needs to be defended.
POGGIOLI: But prosecutors say that what was at stake was not freedom of expression but the responsibility of companies. Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo, reflecting European concern about privacy issues, hailed the ruling as a confirmation that the right to do business cannot prevail over fundamental human rights.
INSKEEP: Okay, so we have this court ruling that could conceivably affect not just Google, but companies like Twitter, Facebook, anybody who puts up content without editing it first. What are the broader implications here?
POGGIOLI: Well, it certainly looks, as you said, that they're going to have to police their own content, at least in Italy. User generated Web sites may now be treated just like any other media company, TV or print, that provide content and therefore could be subject to the same regulations. But Google says preemptive screening of all content is not feasible, technically or financially, since worldwide 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Spokesman, Echikson says the ruling is like punishing the messenger.
ECHIKSON: If this judgment stands, it will be a little bit like prosecuting the postman for delivering a letter that you don't like the content of. Are we going to prosecute the postman or are we going to prosecute the telephone operator who carries a call where unpleasant things are said? No, obviously not.
POGGIOLI: The U.S. ambassador to Italy, David Thon, endorsed this view, saying in a statement the fundamental principle of Internet freedom is vital for democracies which value freedom of expression and is protected by those who value liberty.
INSKEEP: Sylvia, in a couple of seconds, is this just going to be Italy or is it going to spill over into other countries?
POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know that. Google right now is under investigation from the European Union for some anti-trust complaints from other rival companies. Here in Italy, keep in mind that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns the biggest commercial TV conglomerate and indirectly controls state-run TV. His Mediaset company is currently suing Google for nearly $800 million in damages for copyright infringements, users uploading clips from Mediaset TV shows.
INSKEEP: Okay. Sylvia, thanks very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.
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