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Google faces Israeli lawsuit over controversial Prophet Muhammad video

Analysts say Google is in a tight spot as YouTube video continues to prompt unrest, violence

Arab-Israeli lawmakers and religious leaders Wednesday asked the Jerusalem District Court to force Google to take a controversial video off of YouTube.

The petition also asks that all access to the video be blocked in Israel, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post.

The video in question, a movie trailer that mocks the Prophet Muhammad, has prompted violent outbursts and protests at U.S. embassies and consulates Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, among other countries.

The movie reportedly was filmed in the United States. It remains unclear who made it.

Taleb a-Sana, an Israeli politician and member of the parliament, joined with religious leader to file the petition with the court, according to reports. The petition is said to contend that the video offends Muslims and incites racism.

Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to multiple requests for comment today.

The company, though, has already blocked access to the movie trailer in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Pakistan and Bangladesh (http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9231401/YouTube_blocked_in_Pakistan_and_Bangladesh_over_controversial_video ) have reportedly blocked access to YouTube because officials contended that Google wouldn't agree to remove access to the video there.

"This situation is terrible for Google," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. "There's nothing positive that can come out of this for Google, that I can see anyway. It's a no-win situation."

Analysts, including Kerravala, were quick to note that the video is a matter of free speech and Google would take a huge publicity hit if the company removed it from the YouTube site. At the same time. if the video is left on the site, people may believe the company supports it, they noted.

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said Google could ultimately be seen as taking a strong stand for free speech in a tough situation and that could shine a very positive light on the company.

"If you're going to be as large a Web presence as Google, then you're going to end up in these kinds of situations from time to time," he said.

"I think that many, if not most, people in the Western world will quietly applaud Google for this. If the video doesn't violate criminal laws and if it doesn't violate Google's policies on appropriate content, then they need to keep it up," Olds added.

Olds noted that any ruling by the Jerusalem court probably would affect Google's actions outside of its limited jurisdiction.

"I would assume that any ruling from the Jerusalem court will only apply to their jurisdiction," he added. "Meaning that, at most the court could possibly compel Google to keep Israeli IP addresses from viewing that particular URL."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Read more about legal in Computerworld's Legal Topic Center.


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