US court delivers blow to Yahoo over Naziauction row in France

26th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

LOS ANGELES, Aug 25 (AFP) - A US appeals court has ruled that a lower tribunal had no right to decide a case brought against US Internet giant Yahoo by two French groups trying to halt online sales of Nazi memorabilia.

LOS ANGELES, Aug 25 (AFP) - A US appeals court has ruled that a lower tribunal had no right to decide a case brought against US Internet giant Yahoo by two French groups trying to halt online sales of Nazi memorabilia.

The long-running case is seen as a critical test of legal jurisdiction in cases involving the worldwide web and pits a French law banning the sale of Nazi flags, literature and other items, against US free speech rights.

Documents showed on Wednesday that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Monday that a US district court was premature in making a 2000 decision in the case that went in Yahoo's favour.

The French associations, La Ligue Contre le Racisme et l'Antisemetisme (The League against Racism and Anti-Semitism - LICRA) and L'Union des Etudiants Juifs de France (Jewish Students Union of France - UEJF) want to stop Yahoo in the United States from allowing the sale of Nazi memorabilia.

They claim that that French Internet users can access such sales, which break a French law banning the circulation of Nazi symbols and which were removed by a French court order from Yahoo's French site.

The Ninth Circuit appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the lower court should have held back from ruling as the two groups had yet to file their cases in a US court in their bid to collect a fine imposed by a French court.

"Yahoo must wait for LICRA and UEJF to come to the United States to enforce the French judgement before it is able to raise its First Amendment claim. However it was not wrongful of the French organisations to place Yahoo in this position," wrote Judge Warren Ferguson.

A French court in May 2000 ordered Yahoo to destroy all Nazi-related messages, images and text on its California server within three months, under penalty of a fine of FRF 100,000 (USD 13,300 dollars) per day.

Yahoo! did not fully comply with the order on its US site, but the fine could not be collected in the United States without further US court proceedings and Yahoo! chose to pursue its appeal in France.

Yahoo filed a complaint in the US district court in San Francisco in December 2000 asking the judge to declare the French court's ruling unenforceable in the United States as they breached the US Constitution's First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of expression.

The court granted Yahoo's request for a summary judgement in the case, ruling that enforcement of the French court orders would violate Yahoo's First Amendment rights.

But two of the three appeals court judges ruled Monday that the court had no right to accept the case until the French groups had moved formally to enforce the French rulings in the United States.

However, while ruling the lower court had been premature in its judgement, the judges did not rule directly on the core issue of whether the French groups can collect their fines in the United States.

"France is within its rights as a sovereign nation to enact hate speech laws against the distribution of Nazi propaganda in response to its terrible experience with Nazi Forces during World War II," Ferguson wrote.

"Similarly LICRA and UEJF are within their rights to bring suit in France against Yahoo! for violation of French speech law," he said declining to rule on the basis of the suit.

But dissenting Judge Melvin Brunetti said LICRA and UEJF did effectively use the US legal system to serve Yahoo with the French court's order.

"Yahoo! could feasibly be responsible for all retroactive penalties that accrue until Yahoo! is in compliance with the French order. The threat to Yahoo! is concrete and growing daily," he wrote.

In February last year, a former Yahoo! boss Timothy Koogle was acquitted in a Paris court of charges of illegally selling Nazi memorabilia online through the US company's auction site.

The court decided that neither charge brought against Koogle - "justifying a crime against humanity" and the "exhibition of a uniform, insignia or emblem of a person guilty of crimes against humanity" - had been proven.

Koogle, a 51-year-old US citizen and resident, had been taken to court by the Association of Auschwitz Deportees, a group of survivors of the infamous Nazi death camp.


Subject: French news

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