PARIS (AP) - In a landmark court case, French language watchdogs are pushing for a crackdown on the use of English in cyberspace.
Using a little-enforced law, the Association for the Defense of the French Language and the Future of the French Language went to court Monday to press a Georgia Tech campus in eastern France to translate its Internet site into French.
An estimated 85 percent of Internet sites are in English worldwide, while only about 2 percent are in French, and the watchdog groups are trying to protect cyber sites based in France.
"Under the French constitution, French is the official language, and parents who haven't mastered English have the right in France to understand the education offered to their children in France," said the groups' lawyer, Marc Jobert.
The groups, partly funded by the Culture Ministry, cite a 1994 French law that bans advertising in any single language except French, legislation that placated traditionalists. But the law has been winked at by businesses geared for foreigners or aiming at the export market.
The groups are also going after stores and restaurants that fail to include the language of Moliere.
If Georgia Tech loses the case, the school could face fines of up to $5,000 each time the untranslated Internet site is visited. The Police Court in Paris is expected to announce its decision Feb. 24.
Georgia Tech Lorraine, located in the city of Metz, said the Website must be in English because the school's curriculum is taught solely in that language by Atlanta-based professors. Only the site's directions to the campus are in French.
"The Website is an information structure and not by any means an advertisement," said the school's deputy director, Francois Malassenet. "If you don't know how to read English, you will not be admitted."
Georgia Tech lawyer Jacques Shaeffer asked the court to dismiss the case because the watchdog groups filed the suit without first alerting French judicial authorities, a condition of the language law.
French use of the Internet has lagged behind other countries, and Malassenet blamed that on a lack of French Internet sites as well as "the French government's communication policies."
State-owned France Telecom's rates are criticized for being inflated, though the company will face European deregulation next year.
Amid debate fraught with irony over policing the spoken word, France adopted the 1994 law to forbid ads or products in a foreign language unless they are accompanied by a French translation.
Under the law, manufacturers cannot sell goods without instructions in French, and broadcasters cannot use English words on TV and radio when French equivalents exist.