Italy opens probe into Google over bullying video

ROME Fri Nov 24, 2006 6:02pm EST

The Google booth is seen at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 5, 2006. Italian prosecutors on Friday put two Google Italy representatives under investigation as part of an inquiry into how a video of teenagers harassing an autistic classmate surfaced on its Video site, a judicial source said. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Google booth is seen at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 5, 2006. Italian prosecutors on Friday put two Google Italy representatives under investigation as part of an inquiry into how a video of teenagers harassing an autistic classmate surfaced on its Video site, a judicial source said.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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ROME (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors on Friday put two Google Italy representatives under investigation as part of an inquiry into how a video of teenagers harassing an autistic classmate surfaced on its Video site, a judicial source said.

The two are being investigated for allegedly failing to check on the content of the video posted on the Internet search engine's Web site.

The video, which sparked outrage in the country, showed four teenagers beating and poking fun at a 17-year old disabled boy in a classroom in the northern Italian city of Turin.

Prosecutors have already put the four students and a school teacher under investigation. The students have also been suspended until the end of the school year.

Being put under investigation does not imply any guilt in Italy.

A spokeswoman for Google in Europe said the Internet search engine was sorry for the distress caused by the video and had acted swiftly when it was informed of its content.

"There was this very disturbing video which was posted on Google Video a couple of weeks ago and we promptly took it down when we were notified," said Google's Rachel Whetstone.

"We've been helping Italian police with the investigation and we're happy to cooperate."

In Europe, Google is facing a growing number of legal challenges by plantiffs seeking to enforce local laws that seek to rein in the free flow of information on which the Internet relies.

U.S. law generally treats Google as a distributor of information rather than having editorial responsibility for the content that appears on its automated Web sites.

Italy's Education Minister Giuseppe Fioroni said the prosecutors had been right to apply to the Internet the same legislation that in Italy regulates what can be published in newspapers or broadcast on television.

"I've said repeatedly that there can't be double standards, one for the press and television and another for the Internet," Fioroni told ANSA news agency.

The Internet search engine shared the same duty as other forms of media in distributing "responsible" content, he said.

Google's policy bans the uploading of violent content, but with thousands of videos posted every day on the Internet the search engine relies largely on users to ensure that is adhered to, Whetstone said.

In a separate case in Brussels, a Belgian copyright group has challenged Google News for copyright infringement. Earlier this month, Google faced a copyright infringement suit by filmmakers over a pirated documentary that was temporarily posted on the Google Video site.

(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco)

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