French court wins anti-hate case against Yahoo

13th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 12, 2006 (AFP) - A US appeals court on Thursday threw out a bid by Internet giant Yahoo to win immunity from paying fines imposed by a French court over the firm's online sales of Nazi memorabilia.

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 12, 2006 (AFP) -  A US appeals court on Thursday threw out a bid by Internet giant Yahoo to win immunity from paying fines imposed by a French court over the firm's online sales of Nazi memorabilia.

But, ruling on a long-running case that pitted the US constitutional right to freedom of expression against French anti-hate laws, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said it was very unlikely that the media giant would ever have to stump up what could amount to millions of dollars in fines.

Yahoo had sought in its suit filed five years ago to bar two Paris-based rights groups from seeking to enforce two earlier French court orders imposing fines on the Internet firm in the United States over sales of Nazi items, which have since been halted.

The groups, the League against Racism and Anti-Semitism and Jewish Students Union of France, wanted to stop Yahoo from allowing the sale of Nazi memorabilia, at least to French Internet users, which breaks a French law banning the circulation of Nazi symbols.

In 2000 a French court ordered Yahoo to remove the Nazi items from availability to French users, and also ordered Yahoo to pay 100,000 francs (US $18,500) a day in fines for each day that the items were available.

In its US suit Yahoo contested the French court rulings, claiming that they were a violation of its right to free speech under the US constitution's first amendment.

But in a six to five vote, the judges decided to toss out Yahoo's complaint, while overturning a decision by a lower California court that declared the French court decisions unenforceable.

Three judges voted to dismiss the case because it is not "ripe" to be considered by an American court, while the three other judges dismissed it on the grounds that US courts did not have jurisdiction over the Jewish groups.

The judges noted that Yahoo's free-speech argument was "vague" and that the firm had in any case "in large measure" voluntarily complied with the French order to halt the offending auctions, making any violation of its First Amendment rights moot.

"Even if the measures Yahoo has already taken restrict access by American Internet users to anti-Semitic materials, this has no bearing on Yahoo's first amendment argument," the judges wrote.

"By its own admission, Yahoo has taken these measures entirely of its own volition," they wrote.

But while rejecting the lower court's ruling that the French fines were unenforceable in the United States, the judges said that the French court orders of 2000 were very unlikely to ever be applied.

"Enforcement of that penalty is extremely unlikely in the United States," the judges wrote. "Enforcement is unlikely not because of the First Amendment, but rather because of the general principle of comity under which American courts do not enforce monetary fines or penalties awarded by foreign courts."

Yahoo representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on the court's decision.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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