Judge Oscar Magi Tuesday rejected Google requests to have the trial about a so-called bullying video moved from Milan to Turin or Rome, but said he would consider a possible request to switch to a fast-track procedure if Google's lawyers decide to advance it at the next hearing, scheduled for May 5.The verdict could have important implications for the way Google operates in Italy and for the wider debate over freedom of speech and legal responsibility for what is posted on the Internet.
Four Google executives -- chief legal officer David Drummond, global privacy counsellor Peter Fleischer, former chief financial officer George Reyes, and the former head of Google Video Europe Arvind Desikan -- are on trial for defamation and privacy violations in connection with a video showing the bullying of a 17-year-old boy with Down Syndrome that was posted on Google Video in September 2006.
Google lawyers had argued that the case should be transferred to Turin, where the bullying incident took place, or alternatively to Rome, where Italy's privacy authority is based.
"The judge rejected the Google lawyers' arguments. The trial will take place in Milan, and it will take place," said Guido Camera, a lawyer representing Vivi Down, the advocacy group that first drew attention to the existence of the bullying video.
Another part of the case, which concerns a complaint by a woman who says the Google search engine provides reports on her involvement in a fraud case but fails to register the fact that she was ultimately cleared of blame, will now be moved to Rome, Camera said in a telephone interview.
Giuliano Pisapia, a lawyer acting for Google, told the court his clients were interested in switching to a fast-track procedure, which would automatically result in reduced sentences in the event of a conviction.
Under the procedure no witnesses would be called and the judge would base his decision on the written submissions of the prosecution and defense lawyers, though the defendants would have the option of attending court to make a statement, Camera said. Fast-track hearings are closed to the public and press.
"I was very surprised to hear that Google might request a fast-track procedure for a case like this," Camera said. "It's a long and difficult trial and all uphill for us."