Google Execs on Trial in Italy for ’06 Cellphone Video

Tomorrow begins the trial for the four former and current Google (s GOOG) executives charged with defamation and privacy violations over Google Video hosting a cellphone video of a disabled teenager being taunted and hit that was uploaded by one of his tormenters. While the bullies have already been punished, the Google employees could face up to 36 months of jail time for allowing the video to be hosted, according to reports.

Google told the New York Times that the employees on trial are David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer; George Reyes, its former chief financial officer; and Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel; and an executive from the Google Video team in London. Fleischer is reportedly appearing in court tomorrow; Google declined to comment on whether the others would be appearing as well.

The trial had been expected for a while now, but it’s still shocking. The International Association of Privacy Professionals said this is thought to be the “first criminal sanction ever pursued against a privacy professional for his company’s actions.”

The EU and Italy have legislation similar to the U.S. DMCA that protects Internet service providers from legal claims against third-party uploads, so long as providers take down offensive content when someone complains. Though the video in question was uploaded on Sept. 8, 2006, Google did not receive complaints about it until Nov. 6, 2006, and after that the site removed the video within 24 hours.

Fleischer was reportedly brought to a deposition in January by law enforcement officials who confronted him at a speaking engagement in Milan.

Google emailed us a statement and declined to comment further:

As we have repeatedly made clear our hearts go out to the victim and his family. We are pleased that as a result of our co-operation the bullies in the video have been identified and punished. However, we feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong. It’s akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post. What’s more, seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open internet. We will continue to vigorously defend our employees in this prosecution.