Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Today's astonishing verdict in Milan

Google has already reacted to today's astonishing verdict in Milan. I'd like to add a few personal words.

I will vigorously appeal today's verdict in Milan. The judge has decided I am criminally responsible for the actions of some Italian teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google Video. I knew nothing about the video until after it was removed by Google in compliance with European and Italian law. I was very saddened by the plight of the boy in the video, not least as I have devoted my professional life to preserving and protecting personal privacy rights. Despite this a public prosecutor in Milan has spent 3 years investigating, indicting and successfully prosecuting me and 2 other Google colleagues.

This ruling also sets a very dangerous precedent. If company employees like me can be held criminally liable for any video on a hosting platform, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the video in question, then our liability is unlimited. The decision today therefore raises broader questions like the continued operation of many Internet platforms that are the essential foundations of freedom of expression in the digital age. I recognize that I am just a pawn in a larger battle of forces, but I remain confident that today’s ruling will be over-turned on appeal.


Unknown said...


As an Internet law professor, attorney and user, as well as the parent of a special-needs child, I *fully* support you and your colleagues in this fight. The decision by the Italian court is incorrect and harmful on many levels, and I can only wish that you, like Felix Somm years ago, will be quickly and completely exonerated on appeal. {Jonathan Ezor}

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! I'm a nobody, just read about this and want to send you my support. Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Peter

It's absurd. It is incredible that you have been convicted, you will be exonerated on appeal.

Meanwhile you have the support of all privacy professionals, a risky job from now...

Pierre said...

Bon courage. J'espère de tout coeur que vous serez blanchi, car cette décision est très perturbante aussi bien pour vous que pour le web en général (Consider the current climate in Internet-phobia among part of the political spectrum of France and Europe, nothing like what we could experience at the Digital Oblivion seminar @ Scpo)


Anonymous said...

Toute ma sympathie Peter.. et comme tous tes collègues "Privacy Professionals" je souhaite vivement que ceci soit corrigé au plus vite.

Cette décision est non seulement excessive elle est absurde à tous points de vue. L'excés de certains a crée cette défiance de la part des juges, il est regrettable que leur vindicte tombe sur ceux qui n'y sont pour rien...


Daniel P

Frederic Thu said...

It's incredible to see you condemned. You have our support and sympathy.

I hope a solution will be found to this responsability problem - someone has to be responsible, but you should in no way be held responsible.

Eduardo (London) said...

The most important thing one learns in law school is that law is hardly ever black or white - just different shades of grey. I know well the issues at stake in this case and frankly, the law was as clear cut as it can get. This decision is incomprehensible and reflects very badly on the Italian judiciary. The only logical way forward is to try and reverse it.

Christian Bernieri said...

I'm sorry for your personal evolvement in this matter.
Consider this, are we free to host a terrorist forum or chat, just because the hosting is not a terrorist?
Are we free to publish copyright material, just because we are not using it or enjoying it?
Are we free to distribute my son's photos, just because somebody else has given us the pictures?

I don't think so.

In the same way, we (all, not only in Italy) are not free to publish everything is sent to us, just because there are too many submissions and is not possible to check each sending.

If the publishing platform has a commercial purpose, the violation can't be silenced and a trial must be faced.

I'm Italian. I live in one of the most bureaucratic and law-complicated country in the world. I don't even like Italian Laws and I don't like this verdict at all... but I have a website, and had to register, to pay, to get authorization and, first of all, inform myself about rights, duties and limit of my own activity.

Privacy matter is ruled by the rights of the other persons. Our freedom ends where starts the freedom (and the rights) of the others.

Good Luck

Christian Bernieri

Álvaro Del Hoyo said...


As an IT lawyer and privacy professional I recognize your strong commitment for privacy protection, and I mean Google and yourself, even when sometimes am not fully agree with some of your strategies, arguments,... and feel sorry for some mistakes done.

Guess common sense should come after your appellation and you all will be exonerated.

In any case am dying to read full sentence to have all the details.

All the best and bon courage!!!

Un saludo

Álvaro Del Hoyo said...

May be you did it during definition of your strategy for the case, and am sure you are fully aware of it, but forget to comment that the fact that Google Video or Youtube could be considered social media could provide some benefits, but inconvenient

Un saluso

Anonymous said...

I have a question: Are you now required to report this criminal conviction to the SEC and to the Bar where you're recognized as a Lawyer? I suspect that you could lose your 'license' to practice law as a convicted criminal.

Unknown said...

A truly incredible state of affairs which if anything just goes to show how immature and ineffective legislation is with regards privacy and the Internet.

Best wishes and good luck with fighting this, it's just a shame you're having to.

bart said...

I'm looking for the verdict in Italian. Does anyone know where to find it?

Tom Swift said...

Peter- Tom Swift here. Another media and entertainment lawyer here from Massachusetts. Sending love and support.

At least the conviction was not in a Taliban court as they would have ordered your public impalement ! Well - you could have been the next Salman Rushdie - a fugitive with a book deal !!

We laugh or we cry right? You will prevail.

H. Poteat said...


I was stunned when I saw the verdict, and was ranting about this all last night and all this morning. It's infuriating to see a precedent like this set, and I do hope that the appeal is expedited and far more reasonable.

Given this verdict, I find it hard to envision how any international website with user-generated content -- YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc -- can continue to operate in Italy. If Italy won't recognize the EU's electronic commerce directive, it seems to me that it simply isn't worth the risk to do business there.

Google has already set its own precedent: it has shown that it is willing to withdraw from an entire country if the risk of doing business there is not worth the rewards. It seems to me that this verdict justifies that withdrawal far more than the China attacks did.

Good luck to you, sir.

Tommy Vandepitte said...

Dear Peter
I am a supporter of what you do at Google. I know (a.o. because I heared boohs at a conference once) that activists sometimes consider Google and by extention you monsters to be fought in the fight for privacy. And I am not expressing any judgement on whether Google is entirely designed in a privacy-compliant way. However every effort of you and your team is in my opinion a step forward.

As for the verdict of the Italian judge, I can not seem to find it on the internet. Reaction on it, no problem. I googled over 19,000 hits already. But I would be interested to see what we are talking about. I do not think copyright is holding us back to put it on the net. Privacy of the parties involved? Hmmm, I think that is not really an issue either, since your names are dragged all over the net. So why not go for "data quality", the source itself? No rumours, no speculations,... the text, the arguments of the judge and the possibility of the "public" to react. Why not? Croud sourcing, open source inquiry, e-referendum (whatever you consider a proper term for that kind of "public scrutiny") may give some clarity here.
In any case,
Good luck.

Anonymous said...


If I can be of any help you you all please just let me know.

Anonymous said...

im support you. do you have the text of the verdict?

Christian Bernieri said...

Before writing, you have to inform yourself: the act can be published in the next 40 days afther de judjement.

Anonymous said...

I recognise the logistical difficulty / impossibility of checking the content that people post on sites like yours. However, I am sure that it seems wrong to many that companies like Google can make huge ad revenues from its sites but can also say 'oh, well, what people put on our sites is nothing to do with us'. The ruling might not be overturned, indeed there may be similar rulings in other countries, and Google may need to devote more resource to checking the content of material submitted to it. Much has been said about internet censorship, but this is also about maintaining standards of decency and indeed privacy. Cyberspace needs the same rules as everywhere else. I hope you don't end up in prison though. Michael the Cat

Anonymous said...

do no evil, huh? how did that work out for you?

Álvaro Del Hoyo said...


Guess that todays veredict on Googles AdWords is a good precedent for Google Video case in Italy.

It is good for free of speech, good for Internet as it is now and we will be defined in the future after innovative ideas of Google and many others.

Good luck

Unknown said...


I couldn't help thinking about your astonishing verdict when I saw this latest Italian ruling:

The best revenge will be Italian jails full of culpable Google Autocompleters --

Jon Neiditz