Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Google and YouTube in hot waters over Nazi videos and the need for international cooperation

Today several Internet news outlets have carried the news that the Central Council of Jews in Germany has demanded that a criminal investigation be started into Google and YouTube for airing Nazi and Neo-Nazi videos that contravene German anti-hatred laws (Volksverhetzung as stated in Section 130 of the Strafgesetzbuch, Germany's criminal code). Whether YouTube-Google, a company located in the US and with its servers in US, has to comply with German anti-hatred laws could be argued as to be res judicata following the LICRA v. Yahoo! cases, both in France and the US and the voluntarily compliance of Google with Chinese censorships laws saying that had to do that “in response to local law, regulation or policy”. Furthermore, unless you are some sort of weirdo, there is a general agreement between civilized thinking people that Nazi things are not good and are abhorrent (vision that I assume the people of Google share, and I am tempted to say that I am sure about that). However, the problem is with the limit. As it was many times expressed by many people at many forums, if every company in the planet publishing in Internet needs to comply with the censorship regulations of every country, then every country will end having the same regulations of the most restrictive one, which would also imply that the freedom of expression and speech guarantees incorporated into constitutions and human rights agreements around the globe would turn meaningless. Some would argue that the solution rests on geographically specific filters, but then we would need to rewrite every book and paper on Internet and e-commerce and erase the part referred to global reach. So, it seems that the only solution, not an easy one, is some sort of global agreement on the topic, which was the reason I started studying Internet legal issues: while my area of interest was international cooperation on legal regime creation, back in 1998 I thought that the peculiar characteristics of Internet would force countries to give up part of the sovereignty and seriously cooperate on creating global regulatory regimes (since I chose to write my masters and PhD dissertations on taxations issues to show the need for such cooperation, they are both outdated, irrelevant and burnable, but the idea was not to deal with taxes and to show the mentioned need of cooperation, and I think that the underlying principle still stands) . While many may agree with the vision of an unregulated environment where everyone is free to do as she/he pleases, reality shows that people and companies need certainty to operate and plan, and that self-regulation normally does not provide such (although it is very often strongly defended as conducive to the creation of positive business environments without much data supporting the affirmations and a lot of vested interests and ideology behind), which leaves properly balanced and not excessive regulation as the necessary solution, in this case at international level. It does not go saying that it will be an easy task, and the experience with TRIPS is not encouraging due to the imposition of a handful of corporate groups’ interests into the rest of the globe with consequences in health, technology transfers and access to knowledge still difficult to measure, but situations like the one involving Google/YouTube seem to show that the need is there and will become soon unavoidable.

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