Can French law be imposed on an internet company?

You have to hand it to the French. Their insecurity and childishness really sets standards for everyone else. First it was McDonald's hamburgers and now it's Nazis. They ought to have their heads and their legal system examined.

You have to hand it to the French. Their insecurity and childishness really sets standards for everyone else. First it was McDonald's hamburgers and now it's Nazis. They ought to have their heads and their legal system examined. I'm talking about the French court judgement against the internet company Yahoo.

It seems the French courts believe Yahoo should make it impossible for French people to traffic in Nazi paraphernalia. Make that people in France, as the French court only has jurisdiction inside the country. Yahoo has already banned the auction of Nazi items on its French Yahoo site, but apparently that is not enough. French citizens who live in places like the US can indulge their brown-shirt fantasies.

The French (and the Germans) have laws related to the distribution of Nazi material specifically and hate-crime information generally. The court has placed the burden on Yahoo to prevent internet users in France from breaking the law and getting their hands on Third Reich memorabilia through Yahoo's auction site. Yahoo says its US parent company should not be subject to French law.

You can take the legal approach and say that because internet users in France have access to Yahoo's US site they must follow French law. But this is not enough for the French court.

If the French government was smart - and not being pressured by some rights groups - it would take this as an opportunity to review the whole basis for state-sponsored censorship. Of course this opens up a whole series of issues for the French, who have never been entirely open and honest when dealing with their involvement with Nazi Germany. The Paris judge is applying a law that already exists.

But I have news for jurists, politicians and pressure groups: the internet will remain bigger than all of you.

By attempting to enforce French law on a US company, France is joining a group of regimes that believes it has a right - indeed an obligation - to determine what people can and cannot say, do or promote. The judgement says people in France are not to be trusted; that there is some deep-seated desire in a part of the population to buy and sell this junk.

In 1996, the US Congress tried to protect children from obscene materials on the internet by passing the Communications Decency Act. The Supreme Court threw it out in 1997, saying it improperly restricted the free-speech rights of adults.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles recently released a study stating that the number of websites promoting hate doubled to 3000 in 1999. The report says that most of the growth came from European extremist groups moving to the web.

Yahoo could have avoided this controversy by adopting a blanket policy stating that it will not accept submissions that traffic in hate. That would have been sensible and intelligent.

The company has until February to put into place technology that will identify and bar users based in France from accessing these online areas or face a fine of $US13,000 a day.

Why not instead combat the emergence of hate literature and items by finding the people that buy these things and giving them a strong dose of their own authoritarian medicine? They ought to enjoy that.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Market Place

[]