Thursday, February 25, 2010

Short takes on Google's Italy adventure

Was yesterday's ruling against Google a major event? Or will it be forgotten by the time the Winter Olympics end on Sunday?

For the general public -- that is, those not living in Italy -- yesterday's ruling probably won't mean much. But in the Internet industry, and much of the media industry, many believe yesterday's ruling was astounding.

The Guardian:
Italy has taken a step closer to China
Expecting Google to adopt a censorship system that automatically filters videos published online is like expecting highways companies to be incriminated for lack of traffic control at the toll booth. Of course Google should adopt the best possible technology to avoid abuses. But if someone is to control driving licences, that someone should be the police, not the highway owner. And it's about time that authorities took into account the technological problems arising from certain measures.
San Jose Mercury News editorial:
Reason to believe Google verdict in Italy will be isolated
... But the reaction — ranging from head-scratching to condemnation, even among privacy advocates — has been heartening. Despite worries the case will set a precedent in Italy or the European Union, we're hopeful that this backlash will keep other countries from following suit. It should also help persuade an Italian appeals court to rethink the verdict.

If not, the implications for free speech and commerce, at least as Americans understand them, are worrisome.
PC World:
Google's Case in Italy Was Always Lose-Lose
So in light of the Italian court decision, Google's options were to self-censor its video site (or obliterate it completely), or go to jail. Hopefully Google can win the case on appeal, and end the madness.
National Post:
Fascism alive and well? Italian court rules against Google
There is much speculation that, in a country where most private media is owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and public media is controlled by the government, the real motive is not to defend the dignity of a disabled child, but to crush a competitor. The New York Times reports, 

“there is a strong push to regulate the Internet more assertively than it is controlled elsewhere in Europe. Several measures are pending in Parliament here that seek to impose various controls on the Internet. Critics of Mr. Berlusconi say the measures go beyond routine copyright questions and are a way to stave off competition from the Web to public television stations and his own private channels — and to keep a tighter grip on public debate.”
Does Italy’s Google Conviction Portend More Censorship?
Leslie Harris, the president of the influential Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, argued the ruling would be used by authoritarian regimes to justify their own web censorship.

“Today’s stunning verdict sets an extremely dangerous precedent that threatens free expression and chills innovation on the global internet,” Harris said in an e-mail statement. “If the conviction is allowed to stand, it will chill the provision of Web 2.0 services that provide user-generated content platforms in Italy, and Italian internet users will find themselves without a powerful forum for free expression.

“Most troubling, what happened in Italy is unlikely to stay in Italy. The Italian court’s actions today will surely embolden authoritarian regimes and be used to justify their own efforts to suppress internet freedom.”