Originally created 11/21/00

French court orders Yahoo! to block French users from auction sites



PARIS -- A French court on Monday ordered Yahoo! to block French Web users from its auction sites selling Nazi memorabilia in a landmark ruling that could set a precedent for enforcing national laws on the borderless Internet.

The decision closed a seven-month court battle started by several anti-racism groups that accused the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Internet giant of trivializing the Holocaust.

The court gave Yahoo! three months to find a way to block French Web surfers from its Internet pages selling objects such as swastika-emblazoned flags and daggers.

After that, Yahoo! will be subject to a $13,000 fine for each day it does not comply, the court said.

Internet experts are concerned the case could set a legal precedent regarding the right of one country to reach across borders and impose its own laws on online material that is stored in other nations.

During the trial, Yahoo!'s lawyers argued that blocking the site from the French would be technically impossible. The Net has no borders, they said, and there is no effective means of preventing the Net's users from traveling where they like.

"We regret having to put in place measures that won't be effective," said Christophe Pecnard, a lawyer for Yahoo! "We hope that other countries won't take the same route."

Pecnard said he would study ways to appeal the decision.

The trans-Atlantic legal battle began seven months ago, when two Paris antiracism groups sued Yahoo!, angry that French people had access to more than 1,000 objects of Nazi memorabilia on its auction site, http:auctions.yahoo.com.

In France, it is illegal to sell or display anything that incites racism.

In May, a French judge ordered Yahoo! to pay $1,000 to each of the two advocacy groups that sued, ruling that the Internet company had offended the nation's "collective memory."

The judge also ordered Yahoo! to find ways to block French users from its sites selling Nazi paraphernalia or other Yahoo! sites with content deemed to be racist.

The advocacy groups that sued Yahoo! have argued that there is a moral high ground in this case that should shield the French from the commercialization of Nazi objects.

Laurent Levy, a lawyer for the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, called the decision "exemplary."

"It resolves the question of borders on the Internet," Levy said.

In its ruling, the Paris court said that it is technically possible for Yahoo! France, the company's local subsidiary, to block at least 90 percent of French users from the sites in question.

Earlier this month, a team of Internet experts testified that it was possible to keep some French Web surfers from seeing the sites, though one specialist, American Vinton Cerf, expressed concern about hindering Net freedom.