Court throws out French-language Internet case

A court case involving the protection of the French language on the Internet has been thrown out of court for good, according to a representative of the university in southern France that was sued in 1996 for hosting a Web site in English on French soil. The case began when two non-profit groups aimed at preserving the French language from the onslaught of foreign words brought a suit against Georgia Tech Lorraine University in Metz, France. They said that the university should not be able to host its primarily English Web site on a server in France.

A court case involving the protection of the French language on the Internet has been thrown out of court for good, according to a representative of the university in southern France that was sued in 1996 for hosting a Web site in English on French soil.

The case began in October 1996 when two non-profit groups aimed at preserving the French language from the onslaught of foreign words brought a suit against Georgia Tech Lorraine University in Metz, France. The groups, Defense of the French Language and the Future of the French Language, said that the university should not be able to host its primarily English Web site on a server in France, according to Professor Hans Puttgen, director of Georgia Tech Lorraine. Under a French law called the "Loi Toubon," organisations are forbidden to sell goods and services in France in any single language other than French.

The case was dismissed by a French Tribunal Court in Paris last June due to a procedural breach on the part of the language groups. The prosecuting groups did not file the case with a prosecutor before taking it to court, which is required under the Loi Toubon, Puttgen said.

However, the French language groups appealed the decision, standing by their original claim that Georgia Tech had violated the Loi Toubon, Puttgen said. Today, the French Court of Appeals in Paris upheld the earlier ruling, citing the procedural breach as a reason for the case to be terminated, according to Puttgen. The real issue of whether it is legal to use only English on a Web site in France was not addressed in either trial due to the procedural roadblock, he said. The university would liked to have seen the issue debated in court, since it stands by its original claim that the Loi Toubon should not apply in cyberspace, Puttgen added.

The university has denied any wrongdoing. Once users enter the Georgia Tech Lorraine Web site, they are entering the university in a virtual sense -- and the university conducts classes in English, Puttgen said. Since then, Georgia Tech has added French and German content to its site, but points out that many sites operating in France are entirely in English. The Loi Toubon, which applies to advertising and media, shouldn't apply to the Internet, where international borders are fuzzy, he said.

The Georgia Tech Web site is at: www.georgiatech-metz.fr/.

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