French Yahoo! Battles Censorship

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From: Carey Lening (
Date: Fri Aug 11 2000 - 10:52:20 PDT

French Yahoo! Battles Censorship
By ANGELA DOLAND, Associated Press Writer

PARIS--In a legal battle over who should be held responsible for online
racism, a court called Friday for a team of experts to examine ways of
blocking French Internet users from U.S. giant Yahoo!'s auction site.
A lawyer for Yahoo! called the judge's action "reasonable."
The case began in April, when two Paris-based human rights groups filed suit
against Yahoo! for hosting auctions of Nazi objects, including Nazi
medallions, swastika-emblazoned battle flags and other Third Reich
In France it is illegal to sell or exhibit anything that incites racism, but
the U.S. Constitution's protection of free speech allows the expression of
racist or extremist ideas. Yahoo is based in Santa Clara, Calif.
Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez ruled in May that Yahoo!, owner of the world's most
visited Web pages, had offended France's "collective memory." He ordered the
company to pay fines to the two human rights groups that sued -the
International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Union of
Jewish Students of France.
Gomez also ordered Yahoo! to find a way to block French users from the
U.S.-based pages in question. On Friday, he put off any decisions on that
matter and called for a team of three experts -one French, one American, and
one European -to study ways to identify Web users by origin and filter
French users from the site.
The experts will present their findings to the court on Nov. 6.
Christophe Pecnard, a lawyer for Yahoo!, said he thought the judge's action
seemed "reasonable."
"The judge took into account our arguments," Pecnard said.
Gomez also decided on Friday not to order that Yahoo! be fined additionally
for every day the disputed sites remained accessible from France.
Yahoo has pulled Third Reich paraphernalia from its French site -in keeping with national laws. In a further step, the company
recently added warnings, in French, to some pages of its U.S.-based site
containing sensitive material, alerting French users they risk breaking
French law by viewing them.
Yahoo's lawyers say it would be impossible to go further, arguing that it is
not technically feasible to keep French users off disputed Web sites.
Countries have always been largely powerless to combat extremist Web pages
that are stored on servers in other countries.
The battle has sparked fears that one nation's legal system could stretch
its tentacles across national borders and put a stranglehold on laws in
other countries.

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