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Google executive questioned over Brazil election video

Published Sep 27, 2012 09:07am


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Google Inc's logo is shown on a screen – File photo by Reuters

SAO PAULO: Google Inc's  most senior executive in Brazil was questioned by police and released on Wednesday after the company failed to take down a YouTube video attacking a mayoral candidate in alleged violation of electoral law.

Google is appealing the charges against Fábio José Silva Coelho, who was brought in by federal police in São Paulo and released after he agreed to cooperate with the case, according to a police statement.

"Google is providing clarification to legal authorities," a spokesman for the company in São Paulo said on Wednesday.

The questioning came a day after a state court in São Paulo banned an online video that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world, giving Google 10 days to pull the video from its YouTube unit. Google has not been formally notified about that case, according to a spokesman for the company.

Taken together, the legal scrutiny represents the strongest pressure Google has yet faced in Brazil to control third-party content uploaded to its websites and the first time its senior executives have come under such intense fire.

Rather than reflecting a coherent national policy, however, the cases illustrate how aggrieved citizens can get a sympathetic hearing from local judges with extensive procedural powers.


Coelho was questioned over a case filed in the western state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where a regional electoral court ruled that the executive was at fault for the company's failure to take down online videos in violation of a stringent 1965 Electoral Code.

Brazilian electoral law bans campaign ads that "offend the dignity or decorum" of a candidate. The video in question claimed that a mayoral candidate demanded his lover get an abortion, publicizing the details of an alleged paternity suit.

"Google is appealing the decision that ordered the removal of the video on YouTube because, as a platform, Google is not responsible for the content posted to its site," the company said through a spokesman in Brazil on Tuesday.

Even if Google is not at fault for the publication of such a video, the company may be held responsible for not removing content declared by illegal by a judge, according to Leonardo Palhares, a lawyer specializing in internet law at Almeida Advogados in São Paulo.

Federal police said the crime of disobeying a judge's ruling under the Electoral Code can carry a sentence of up to one year in prison.

The ruling follows a similar decision by another electoral judge in the northeastern state of Paraiba, which also held a senior Google executive responsible for videos in violation of elections law. That decision was overturned last week.


Brazil also entered a broader international debate this week about an inflammatory YouTube video depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer, fool and child abuser, when a state court in Sao Paulo ordered Google to take down the video.

World leaders have decried the video, which set off a string of violent protests in the Muslim world, including attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Several Muslim leaders called for international action to outlaw acts of blasphemy.

When President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he repeated his condemnations of the video as "crude and disgusting" but defended the importance of free speech in the United States and throughout the world.

Ruling on a lawsuit by Brazil's National Islamic Union, São Paulo Judge Gilson Delgado Miranda gave Google 10 days to remove the video. In his decision, Miranda said he weighed freedom of expression against the need to protect against action that might incite religious discrimination.

A California judge ruled last week that the video could stay on YouTube despite a request to have it taken down by an actress appearing in the clip. She argued that she was duped into taking part and had since received death threats.

Google rejected a request by the White House to reconsider its decision to keep the clips on YouTube, but the company has blocked the trailer in certain Muslim countries such as Egypt and Libya.


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Comments (4) Closed

Bruno Werneck Sep 27, 2012 11:33am
I think YouTube and Google ARE responsible for the content their sites make available to the general public, even though they are not responsible for uploading that content. However, I also think no single judge has the right to rule an international matter. If the video was supposed to be taken out of youtube, a joint force of international judges should rule it, not a petty Brazilian one (esp. because we know Brazil is not a secular country, as long as it has a Protestant party on the Congress, Brazilian's judges are prone to rule regarding religion matters). -------- There are many things that offend me. I choose not to watch them. I don't want to kill the responsibles. I just won't indulge into unfounded hatred.
Michael From Seattle Sep 27, 2012 03:30pm
Google should pull its operations out of this overgrown banana republic which has become so arrogant that ine of its local judges believe he has the right to order Google to remove "Innocence of Muslims" from its Mountain View, California servers. Google doesn't need to cite "Safe Harbor," as that is a U.S. law, and has no applicability in a foreign country. The issue here is whether or not Brazil can order a foreign company, with servers located within a foreign country, to remove content from its servers, when clearly Brazil is not being specifically targeted. Brazil has the power, it wishes, to order Brazilian Internet service providers to block YouTube, but does not have the right to tell foreign companies what they can have loaded on their foreign-based servers. The Internet must remain free and open, despite the pressures that emanate from countries that are having difficulty transitioning into the twenty-first century. Google: Pull your operations out of Brazil, lock, stock, and Barrel.
Michael From Seattle Sep 27, 2012 03:43pm
"A California judge ruled last week that the video could stay on YouTube despite a request to have it taken down by an actress appearing in the clip. She argued that she was duped into taking part and had since received death threats." She's an adult and fully responsible for her actions. When you piss people off, you need to take your continued existence as a living human being into consideration. While I totally defend Google's right to make the video available, I agree that the video is vile, disgusting, and obscene. She should hire a bodyguard service.
seowestcp Sep 27, 2012 11:53am
At the end of the day if Google is supplying the means, then they should be responsible? But shouldnt the same 'laws' be made against gun manufacturers?