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Milan court overturns Google privacy convictions

Executives were charged in case involving bullying video

A Milan appeals court Friday overturned the conviction of three Google managers for violating Italy's privacy laws by allowing the posting of a video showing the bullying of a handicapped student.

The executives -- Senior Vice President David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer Peter Fleischer and Chief Privacy Counsel George Reyes -- were handed suspended six month prison sentences by a Milan assize court in February 2010 for allowing the disturbing video to be posted on the Google Video website.

The appeals court upheld the lower court's decision to acquit the three Google executives of defamation, confirming the assize court's acquittal on that charge of Arvind Desikan, the former head of Google Video Europe.

The 2010 verdict set a legal precedent in Europe by holding executives of an Internet operator responsible for content posted on the Web by a third party.

Giulia Bongiorno, one of the lawyers acting for the Google executives, welcomed the ruling. "My reaction is of complete satisfaction but no surprise. Honestly, the convictions were based on nothing," Bongiorno told reporters.

Bongiorno said the new ruling established the principle that users rather than Internet operators were responsible for material posted on the Web. "The essential principle is that there is no obligation to exercise total control," for Internet service providers such as Google, she said.

The video showing the disabled boy being teased by classmates was first posted on Google Video on Sept. 8, 2006, and was taken down a month later after Google received protests from a charitable organization representing Down Syndrome sufferers.

The victim and the charitable association, Vividown, both withdrew from the case after reaching a private settlement with Google.

"We're very happy that the verdict has been reversed and our colleagues' names have been cleared." Giorgia Abeltino, policy manager for Google Italy, said in a prepared statement.


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