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YouTube Down But Not Out in Brazil

Brazilian access to YouTube was blocked for a couple of days this month as a result of a judicial order barring the distribution of the now infamous spicy celebrity video of Daniela Cicarelli, supermodel and ex-wife of soccer star Ronaldo, and her boyfriend in mischievous behavior at a Spanish beach. The film then appeared on an Italian television channel, and shortly thereafter, took the Internet by storm. Cicarelli and her boyfriend sued YouTube on the grounds of violation of privacy – even though they were on a public beach, and in plain sight of dozens of onlookers. Their first attempt at a preliminary injunction was denied by a lower court judge, but was granted following an interlocutory appeal. YouTube, Globo Television and Internet Group Brazil (IG) were served with an order to remove the video. Despite efforts made to take the video down, Google-owned YouTube was no match for the relentless reposting of the user-driven content. The reporting judge from the São Paulo State Court informed the lower court judge to give “active effect” to the decision that censored the video – which was interpreted as an order to terminate the Internet connection from Brazil to the American-based website (through filters on US-Brazil Internet connections, i.e. backbones). A series of official letters quickly led the Brazilian backbone operators to shut down access to the website, which was followed by protests throughout the country, a boycott on Cicarelli’s program on MTV Brazil and several threats to the model and to the judges involved in the matter. Soon after, the appellate court judge reviewed ex officio his order and requested the reestablishment of access to YouTube. For days, the Cicarelli video was the most viewed video in Brazil, and worldwide attention to it did at times surpass the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The clumsy judicial order deprived 5 million people of access to the world’s most popular user-driven content video site, and contradicted Brazilian privacy related caselaw, as usually, controversial content providers are afforded better protection under Brazilian law. The strong reaction against this censorship proved quite positive, as it showed Brazilians will not tolerate such judicial interference with the Internet. Still, the Court’s decision must be implemented. YouTube’s inability to remove the celebrity video may result in US $116,000 damages for each day the video remains online. On the other hand, Internet providers are considering filing suit against the Brazilian government to recover damages for the time that YouTube was forced offline. Cicarelli and her boyfriend have apparently declared their support for the Internet and their condemnation of censorship. Their lawsuit will be a true test for content restriction efforts in an online, connected world. Freedom of information, public expression of discontent, and the affect of user-driven content in the information age will undoubtedly provide for continued legal excitement.

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