Liability of website owners on the rise

Governments are making counterproductive and seemingly random demands of website owners – and using the power of law to follow through with their threats.  China might have really gotten the ball rolling with internet censorship and a politicized approach to web administration, but its how this trend has been picked up by western governments that should be triggering alarms in the English-speaking blogosphere.

Italy Convicts Youtube Employees

Website owners around the world have to be worried a bit about the latest court ruling from Italy to impact our industry.  Three Youtube employees were convicted recently in a case that came up in response to a video showing a group of students beating an autistic classmate that was very briefly hosted on Google’s servers.  The attackers posted the video and these guys worked to take it down and share the uploader’s identification with the police so charges could be pressed – but at some point they ran afoul of the nation’s privacy laws and they’re currently being held accountable for the violation.

Google’s coverage is a little vague – they’re more interested in appealing the decision than preparing for the penalty – but it does sound like they were all cleared of the more serious, criminal charge.  I’m guessing this means those employees will need to pay a fine of some sort.

This will be an important case to watch, especially as European Union laws come in to interact with Italian ones.  An entire generation of European internet law could evolve from the implications of this case and all the subsequent appeals that both sides are sure to keep throwing out there.

More Europeans Feeling Left Out

At the same time Italy is convicted Google employees, the European Union is already investigating Google for anti-trust complaints.  Three web companies say that Google is “unfairly” ranking their websites and acting as an anti-competitive monopoly.  Hey, I’m not always happy with my website rankings either but that’s actually evidence of Google’s incredibly competitive nature.  Low barriers to entry?  Check!  Everyone plays by the same rules?  Pretty much.  Are entrants limited by nationality or location?  Nope! Wait a minute, maybe that’s exactly why established business doesn’t like the upstart model of internet competition.

Like many anti-trust complaints before, this one seems to be centered around Google’s dominance of PPC advertising.  In fact, the EU is basically bringing the same argument that the US government just used to sink a deal between Yahoo and Google.  What they’ve actually done is fragment the advertising marketplace and make the whole thing less efficient and less competitive.  So expect the EU to charge full speed ahead in to this brick wall anyway.  I hope you weren’t getting a lot of PPC sales from across the pond!

Down Under & Backwards a Bit

It might have started with Australia, where a long list of potentially offensive content has been deemed illegal.  Even before the internet filter is in place, website owners are liable for up to $11,000 for every instance of banned content that they’re hosting in a publicly accessible directory.   Oh yeah, much like the recent ruling in Italy, it doesn’t even matter if your users uploaded or added the illicit content – since you’re the owner providing the hosting service, you’re the one paying up for the fines.

FTC Worries about Blogger Honesty

While American politicians lie about weapons of mass destruction, social security’s ability to pay in to the future, the Federal Trade Commission is worried that bloggers might be biased to favor their advertisers.  Really?  Really, Sherlock? I think everyone figured that one out already, someone (blogger or not) is going to help them part with their money really soon.

So, instead of tracking down the next big fraud in Wall Street or shining some light on the financial relationships that exist between the military-industrial complex and “mainstream news” outlets, they’d rather make sure everyone in affiliate marketing puts up a little disclaimer.

Well.. at least we’re not paying for 30 second blocks like those guys who have to speed-read their disclaimers at the end of a TV or radio commercial!

Can we defend our sites, ourselves?

Its probably not a bad time to lay low and avoid any kind of political controversies.  Most governments are just watching the big players and the loudest noise-makers, but some nets like the contractor income tax audits may come and find even the smallest fish in the ocean.

So double-check those taxes, avoid controversy and any content in legal gray-zones, and keep your fingers crossed…  Surviving the next few years of this economy won’t be easy for anyone, and as website owners we’re right on the front line of a lot of battles that the politicians are ready to fight.


  1. hey John,
    The Italian ruling on Google blows me away. Some jerk uploaded a bad video, and when google was informed of it, they took it down. If google has to screen all content (and pass judgement on it as well), I don’t see how youtube can work. Crazy ruling. Steve

  2. The weird part is, it almost sounds like they were charged and convicted of violating the privacy of the guys who beat up the slow kid and uploaded the video! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

    Google’s write-up didn’t have too many details – I think they want to keep appealing the ruling and maximize outrage in the meantime. The harsher crime was dropped at least, but its hard to understand exactly what happened when legal-talk already sounds like Latin and this case was actually tried in Italian.

  3. Internet marketers and servers should really consider the welfare of every costumer and internet user. They should really take their responsibilities.

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