We have an undeniable insatiable appetite for content in almost any media. The internet has been a primary player and driver in our attempt to quench our thirst. As the internet has evolved our ability to collect, share and store user-generated content has grown exponentially and there is no end in sight as we move rapidly towards 'clouds' as the potential solution to our storage and data management problems. But it is to the inherent difficulties in exercising control over the quality of information that is uploaded by individual users which we turn to in this TMC e-update.

There is a case currently being heard in Milan, Italy which revolves around the fate of four Management executives at Google who are each being held responsible for third party content posted on the internet. The "Google Four" are being prosecuted under Italian law for failing to prevent the publication of a three-minute mobile phone video that was uploaded on to Google's Video's Italian site in 2006. The disturbing video shows four Italian teenagers from Turin (where the trial could yet end up) bullying a male classmate with Downs Syndrome. Google removed the offending video from its site within 24 hours of receiving two complaints about its content, one from a regular user and one from the Italian Interior Ministry. Swift action aside, Italian prosecutors argue the executives should be criminally liable for defamation and privacy infringement under Italian law on the basis that the video should not have been transmitted at all, and that Google's failure to prevent its entry on to the internet is a breach of the boy's privacy.

The case is attracting a great deal of comment in the media, not least because, unusually, criminal charges have been filed against individuals on behalf of the company. It is unclear what the motivations behind this are, particularly as none of the executives on trial had any direct involvement with the offending video and the victim of the bullying has himself apparently withdrawn from the case on the basis that Google dealt with the matter satisfactorily. It would also appear to be the first time an individual has faced criminal charges as a result of a breach of data protection laws and if convicted, the Google Four could face imprisonment of up to 3 years.

Before this case it was widely assumed that the E-Commerce Directive and in particular the exceptions under Articles 12 and 14 would protect companies such as Google and YouTube from being found liable for the content uploaded by third party users. If the arguments made in this present case were to be successful, this could set a new precedent with potentially far-reaching ramifications for user-generated content and for companies such as Google that provide the medium through which the content reaches cyberspace, and could see the need to introduce new measures whereby all content has to be screened.

Today, March 25, is the date set for the trial to resume and we wait to see whether the trial proceeds and whether, in Italy at least, content providers could become liable for just such content.