Google gets fast-track trial in Italy defamation case

Case involves four executives accused of allowing the posting of a video showing the bullying of a Down syndrome sufferer

A Milan judge Tuesday granted a request by Google lawyers for a fast-track procedure in a trial of four senior executives accused of defamation and privacy violations for allowing a video showing the bullying of a Down syndrome sufferer to be posted on Google Video.

The fast-track trial means the defendants will receive lighter sentences in the event of a conviction and the judge will base his decision primarily on written submissions from plaintiffs, the prosecutor and defendants.

Judge Oscar Magi granted the Google lawyers' request with the proviso that evidence would be heard from a Google engineer responsible for setting up the Google Video platform in Italy.

The trial, which began in February, springs from the posting of a three-minute mobile-phone video showing a teenager with Down syndrome being tormented by four classmates in his Turin school.

David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer; Peter Fleischer, its global privacy counselor; George Reyes, the former chief financial officer; and Arvind Desikan, former head of Google Video Europe, faced a jail sentence of up to three years if convicted at a normal trial.

Under the fast-track procedure they would be entitled to a one-third reduction of their sentence.

"It's an important decision because it means that we will get an early verdict," said Guido Camera, a lawyer representing the Vivi Down advocacy association that first drew the attention of the authorities to the allegedly offensive video in September 2006.

The fast-track procedure also means the rest of the trial will take place behind closed doors, Camera said in a telephone interview.

The Vivi Down lawyer said he did not think the Google lawyers had opted for the fast-track procedure in order to reduce the risk to their clients, since a first time offender with a sentence of under three years would receive a suspended prison sentence in any case.

"I don't think it's a question of getting a lighter sentence but rather of speeding things up," Camera said.

The engineer, who has been called to give evidence on June 23, is an employee of Google America, Camera said.

He said some of the defendants might also want to put their case to the court in person.

Google says it is unable to police the content of its video platform because of the volume of material involved and it took down the offending video within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

The Down syndrome boy who was the subject of the video has withdrawn from the case but Vivi Down and Milan city council have been admitted to the trial as plaintiffs, and the prosecutor, Francesco Cajani, is hoping the trial will help to clarify who has responsibility under Italian law for the posting of controversial material on the Internet.

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