@ccueil / actualité / jurisprudence / chroniques / internautes / professionnels / universitaires

November 10, 2000
January 11, 2001

A Look at how U.S Based Yahoo! was Condemned by French Law

A French court ruled in May, that U.S. based Yahoo! Inc. is in violation of French Law and must therefore take the appropriate measures to prevent Internet users in France from accessing one of its Web site which auctions anti-Semitic material. Yahoo! Inc. claimed it was a technical impossibility to comply with such a  court order. After hearing the recommendations from a court appointed panel of  independent technical experts, Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez is expected to render his final decision on November 20th.

Richard Salis,
Law student, University of Montreal

>The Judge's Decision of May 22, 2000 (Juriscom.net)
>The Judge's Decision of November 20, 2000 (Cdt.org)

Yahoo! Inc. bans items of hate from auctions
>An international discussion of the implications of the Yahoo! Inc. nazi memorabilia dispute

>French documents

On November 20th, 2000, Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez of the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance is expected to render his final judgment on a case that questions the right  to which local regulations can transcend their physical borders and exercise their authority in the realm of cyberspace. This decision will determine whether Internet media giant Yahoo! Inc. must comply with the court’s previous ruling, reached on May 22nd, and "make it impossible" for Web surfers in France to gain access to Yahoo! Inc.’s U.S-based auction Web site which sells  Nazi memorabilia online. In France it is illegal to sell or exhibit anything that incites racism. Contrary to French law, this site is legally accessible in the U.S, as freedom of speech, which includes free expression of racist or extremist ideas, is protected by the first amendment of the U.S. constitution.

>The plaintiffs and their accusations
>The defendants’ response to the accusations
>A decision of unprecedented implications
>A technical impossibility to comply ?
>Requiring the advice of technical experts
>Experts report their results

The plaintiffs and their accusations

The suit was brought forward last April in France by the International League Against Racism & Anti-Semitism (LICRA) and the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF). These two Paris based anti-racism groups vehemently accused Yahoo! Inc. of "banalizing the Holocaust," by enabling thousands of Nazi objects to be made available for auction each day online, including films, swastikas, uniforms, daggers, photos and medals. On May 15th, UEFJ expanded its lawsuit to include  Yahoo! Inc.’s local subsidiary Yahoo! France, who is subject to French jurisdiction. UEFJ demanded that Yahoo! France remove all hypertext links to Yahoo! Inc. which currently provide Web surfers the possibility of accessing racist material.  Furthermore, UEFJ demanded Yahoo! France to explicitly warn its French Internet surfers of the racist content that is found at Yahoo! Inc. and thus navigating into the U.S. based search engine would put them at risk of breaking French law.

The defendants’ response to the accusations

In its defense, Yahoo! Inc. argued that the French court did not have  territorial authority to rule over such allegations as the alleged fault was committed on foreign  territory (in the U.S.). As a result, this dispute should thus be subject to U.S. law where such material, albeit  controversial, is protected by the first amendment.

Yahoo! France pleaded in its defense that UEJF’s claims should  be dismissed as there was never intent to glorify Nazism or promote beliefs of hatred by linking to Yahoo! Inc. Furthermore, Yahoo! France attested that they do not personally promote any access to illegal sites and services.  In fact, Yahoo! France argued that it maintains a  strict policy of diligence and that its charter, which defines abusive conduct, is made available to all visitors on its Web site.

A decision of unprecedented implications

On May 22nd, Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez of  the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance announced his decision [1] that had unprecedented implications on the conduct of Internet  companies world wide. Judge Gomez ruled that the American Web site Yahoo! Inc. could be sued under French law as long as the alleged infraction was committed on French territory. The Judge ordered Yahoo! Inc. to prevent all French Web surfers from being  able to access its controversial auction services. Although the Judge did not specify which technological solutions were needed to allow Yahoo! Inc. to insure compliance with the court’s order, he maintained that the giant Internet portal has the ability to identify the geographical origins of the Internet surfers who visit its Web site. Yahoo! Inc. was  given until the 24th  of July to submit to the court the technical solutions it would implement so that the verdict could be upheld. The Paris judge also ordered Yahoo! France to eliminate all navigational links to its parent site Yahoo! Inc. and install warnings to its Internet surfers of Yahoo! Inc.’s illegal content. Both companies were jointly held liable and were ordered to pay 10,000 francs ($1,371 U.S.) in penalty to LICRA and UEJF.

A technical impossibility to comply ?

On July 24th, after two months of research and  investigation, Yahoo! Inc. pleaded to the court that they were not capable of abiding by the May 22nd  order by virtue of the technical impossibility of blocking French Internet users from its U.S. based Web site. In response to Yahoo! Inc.’s claim, the prosecution accused Yahoo! Inc. of not taking the proper initiative to find or develop the required solutions. The prosecution then recommended to the judge that the court should appoint a panel of technical experts to independently determine if and how such an apparent technological  impossibility  could be solved.

Requiring the advice of technical experts

On August 11th, in a surprising turn of events, Judge Gomez, who was expected to pronounce his final decision after considering arguments of both parties, instead chose to implement  the recommendation made by the prosecution on July 24th. The Judge thus announced that he would rule a  final decision on this case only after hearing from a panel of three technical experts, one French, one American, and one European, assigned to determine the existence of viable  technologies that Yahoo! Inc. could employ. Should such technologies be available, Yahoo! Inc. would therefore be forced to comply with  the May 22nd  court ruling.

Experts report their results

On November 6th , the panel of three experts presented their findings to the French court. They concluded that although some technologies where capable of preventing Internet users, based on their geographical origin, from accessing targeted Web sites,  such filtering was not considered full proof but  could only successfully restrict access approximately 80 percent of the time.

Will today’s technologies which can only guarantee an 80 percent success rate be considered inadequate to satisfy French Law? Or will foreign Web sites influencing populations abroad continue to operate out of the reach of local legislation? These questions will finally be resolved on November 20th when Judge Gomez will deliver his final ruling.



>Reuters, “French group sues Yahoo! over Nazi site”, Zdnet.com, April 11, 2000,

>Reuters, “French group takes Yahoo! to court over Nazi site”, Zdnet.com, April 11, 2000,

>Julie Krassovsky, “Yahoo! et les Nazis, deuxième round”, Transfert.net, May 16, 2000,
<http://www.transfert.net/fr/cyber_societe/article.cfm?idx_rub=87&idx_art=634> ;

>Julie Krassovsky, “La France condamne Yahoo!”, Transfert.net, May 23, 2000,
<http://www.transfert.net/fr/cyber_societe/article.cfm?idx_rub=87&idx_art=875> ;

>Julie Krassovsky, “La Licra et l’UEJF assignent de nouveau Yahoo! France”, Transfert, July 14,  2000,

>Julie Krassovsky, “Yahoo.com manque de rigueur”, Transfert.net, July 24, 2000,
<http://www.transfert.net/fr/cyber_societe/article.cfm?idx_rub=87&idx_art=1246> ;

>Julie Krassovsky, “Affaire Yahoo! : place aux experts”, Transfert.net, August 11, 2000,
<http://www.transfert.net/fr/cyber_societe/article.cfm?idx_rub=87&idx_art=1400> ;

>Brian Love, Reuters, “Judge seeks advice in Yahoo! case”, Zdnet, August 11, 2000,

>Reuters, “Nazi auction ban may work”, Zdnet.com, August 11, 2000,

>Jim Hu and Evan Hansen, “Yahoo auction case may reveal borders of cyberspace”, CNET, August 11, 2000,

>Julie Krassovsky, “Procès Yahoo! : les experts, stars d’un jour”, Transfert.net, November 6, 2000,
<http://www.transfer.net/fr/articles/imprime_article.cfm?idx_rub=87&idx_art=2448> ;

>Reuters, “Nazi web site gag ‘impossible’”, CNN, November 6, 2000,

[1] This decision is an “ordonnance de référé” : a decision taken in cases of emergency to immediately end and occurring nuisance.

Yahoo! Inc. bans items of hate from auctions

On January 2nd, 2001, Yahoo! Inc. announced that it has decided to ban all items of hate from appearing onto its auction’s website. Such a change in its auction’s policy will thereby allow Yahoo! Inc. to conform  to a November 20th French court ruling ordering the U.S. based company to take appropriate measures to prevent French Internet users from accessing it’s auction website, deemed to be in violation of French law.

Richard Salis,
Law student, University of Montreal

In a surprise conclusion to a lengthy legal battle, Yahoo! Inc. announced on January 2nd, 2001, that it will cease to allow its users to display Nazi artifacts and other hate-related items on its online auctions site, stating the position that “it does not want to profit from items that glorified or promote hatred”.

Such a change in policy will begin as of January 10th,  and will thus allow Yahoo! Inc. to satisfy a French tribunal’s November 20th ruling, ordering Yahoo! Inc. to  either block French  users from accessing the offending websites  or be fined 100,000 francs ($13,000)  for every day thereafter that it is in violation of this order.  Yahoo! Inc.’s changes to its auction site comes despite a December 21st demand to a U.S. court to intervene on the grounds that the French court is operating outside its jurisdiction to impose sanctions on the website of a US company.

To prevent hate items from appearing on its auction site, Yahoo! Inc. will effectively screen out hate related items before they will be listed. Users who believe that their item(s) do not qualify as being hate related will be able to appeal such rejections to a human arbitrator. 

While supporting Yahoo! Inc.’s new policy, David  Kerr, Chief Executive of  the Internet Watch Foundation remains skeptical of how Yahoo! Inc.’s decision will lead to a reduction of the tremendous amount of hate related material on the Web. Kerr said that the Yahoo! Inc. change in policy was strictly an “ethical” decision and that it will only amount to “a drop in the ocean”.



>BBC News, “Yahoo hits back at Nazi ruling”, BBC News Online, November 21, 2000,

>John Naughton, “Yahoo! for brave French courts”, The Observer, November 26, 2000,

>The Associated Press, “Yahoo! to ban Nazi artifacts from auctions”, January 2, 2001,

>The Associated Press and Reuters, “Yahoo! Nazi auction ban welcomed”, January 3, 2001,


Juriscom.net est une revue juridique créée et éditée par Lionel Thoumyre
Copyright © 1997-2001 Juriscom.net / Copyright © 2000 LexUM