November 8, 2001 2:50 PM PST

Court shields Yahoo from French laws

Yahoo does not have to comply with a French court decision that requires the company to block Nazi-related material from French consumers, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

The French order, which was issued last year, violates Yahoo's First Amendment rights, said U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel of the Northern District of California. Fogel's ruling blocks the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) and the Union of Jewish Students, which successfully sued Yahoo in France, from enforcing a judgment against the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company.

"Although France has the sovereign right to regulate what speech is permissible in France, this court may not enforce a foreign order that violates the protections of the United States Constitution by chilling protected speech that occurs simultaneously within our borders," Fogel wrote in his decision.

Yahoo representatives praised Fogel's ruling, saying it would protect U.S. Web site operators from foreign court decisions that might ban material that is legal in the United States.

The ruling means that "we don't have to operate our sites to the lowest common denominator of laws and content," said Greg Wrenn, deputy general counsel at Yahoo.

But San Francisco attorney Ronald Katz, who represented the French organizations, said he would likely appeal the decision on the grounds that Fogel had no authority to make his decision. The French organizations had no presence in the United States and had made no efforts to enforce the French court's decision, Katz said.

"No other court has decided what this court decided on jurisdiction," Katz said. "If you don't have jurisdiction, then the court shouldn't be saying anything."

LICRA sued Yahoo in French court last year, charging that sales of Nazi-related material on Yahoo's U.S.-based auction site violated French law because the material was available to French citizens. The court ruled in favor of the anti-racism group and ordered Yahoo to block French citizens from accessing auction listings or Web pages on its site that contained anti-Semitic or Nazi-related material.

Although Yahoo objected that instituting such a block would be technologically impossible, the court later affirmed its ruling and threatened to fine Yahoo 100,000 francs (about $13,600) a day if it didn't comply. Yahoo responded to the decision by filing to block its enforcement in the United States and by barring the sale of Nazi materials and Ku Klux Klan memorabilia on its site.

The dispute between Yahoo and the anti-racism organizations is one of the first to consider whether a country's laws can be extended to a company whose only interaction with that country's citizens is over the Internet. The case is also one of the first to consider how the global Internet has affected the various national laws governing speech and publishing.

The dispute between Yahoo and LICRA is only the first among a number of cases that will resolve some of these issues, said Mark Radcliffe, an intellectual property attorney with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich.

"This was a relatively easy case to decide" because of the First Amendment issues involved in it, Radcliffe said. "Cases where you've got some economic regulation or copyright issue are going be a lot tougher to justify," he added.

Although Fogel's decision only applies to the Northern District of California, where his court is based, and could be overruled by an appeals court, it could set a precedent because there have been so few court decisions on these issues, said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sided with Yahoo in the case.

"Courts are still not as sure of themselves with the Internet as they are in other contexts," Tien said. "This doesn't have any binding, precedential value, but it will have more influence than an ordinary district court case would have."

But Katz noted that the case won't set any precedents until it is over.

"I think this will be reversed in short order," Katz said. "We have to get it to the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals). The Supreme Court may even want to take a look at this one."

For its part, Yahoo is confident that the decision will be affirmed on appeal, and it plans to continue the case on "principle," Wrenn said. However, regardless of how the case turns out, the company does not plan to lift its ban on sales of hate-related items, he said.

"As a practical matter, you're not going see a change in our day-to-day business operations," he said.

The sale of hate-related materials such as Adolph Hilter's "Mein Kampf" and "The Turner Diaries" on Web sites such as Amazon.com, eBay and Yahoo have repeatedly drawn criticism from anti-hate groups. Earlier this year, eBay announced its own global ban on the sale of hate-related items. The move extended a previous ban that had permitted the sale of such items on eBay's U.S. site if they had historical value.

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YAHOO AND RACISM
i think my story is seems to be related to the same story over here thats related to racism over yahoo.
I'm one of the a yahoo allstars biggest leagues admins called setarehs palace . and our league is concerning with developing the relations between all kinds of ppl from all countries ignoring the colors religions and politics, but that seems not be loved by some people around us ,those people who still living in the caves and dont know that the whole world must be one hand against racism to
end the wars between nations.
The problem is someone called (Roger) is using to reply our complains over yahoo allstars abuse section who use to deactivate our accounts with no reasons except we are mutlinationalities league
concerning with all kinds of ppl from all religions and all nationalities thats i think made some people getting mad at our league which has gained over 3600 members in a few time cause we are a family league and very lovable with all .
but we are in war that there is some people dont like to see this getting bigger.
and when you contact yahoo to complain you will always recive roger recorded message thats not related to what you have wrote at all :-D just a message signed with roger ..
thank you all and hope my message will find a place under the sun .
by the way yahoo admins keep deactivating our staff daily till this moment but we will never give up :-D

welly
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Yahoo and Racism
I'am also a yahoo league admin.I have been very disapointed in how yahoo managment has handled this matter.We have had 11+ admins who have been deactivated due to abuse complaints.These complaints were from disgruntled ex admins of our league.They have called our league a terrorists league.I can not believe that there is no explanation to these admins of ours who have been deactivated.Nor have they been able to defend them selves.This is rediculios and we just would like to play pool and have fun.These people will not stop.This is costing people alot of money.Please someone reply to this matter it is really terrible that these innocent people have been deactivated with out defending them selves.Those people making abuse complaints are making false reports and they have not been delt with.We have names of these people as well.

Sincerly,Jane Young
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YAHOO AND RACISM
I have been a League Admin. of Setarehs Palace for 10 Months now. We have worked very hard to make it a friendly league. People of all ages and nationalities loved coming and playing in our league because we are one big happy family there. In the past 3 months 11+ admin. have been deactivated for no just cause. I and many others have written to yahoo and received the same form letter from Roger, telling us we have broke terms of service. I have been a member of yahoo for over a year and have never done such a thing, and neither has any of the other admins. We have been threatened by many ex-members stating they were going to get our league deleted and they have made many racist comments against our league. WE want Justice, and hopefully our letters and comments will accomplish this.
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