French court dismisses lawsuit over English Web site

A legal case dismissed in France may have brought relief to the French campus of an American university sued for hosting its English-language Web site on French soil, but it has left open questions about applying existing French laws to the Internet.

A legal case dismissed in France may have brought relief to the French campus of an American university sued for hosting its English-language Web site on French soil, but it has left open questions about applying existing French laws to the Internet.

Two French language associations, the Defence of the French Language and the Future of the French Language, first brought the case in January this year against Georgia Tech Lorraine for posting only English information on its French-hosted Web site. The associations had hoped to apply the French 1994 Toubon law, which requires the use of French in advertisements, to the Internet.

But the case was dismissed on a procedural technicality.

The French language associations hope to appeal the court's decision, according to Marceau Deschamps, a spokesman for the Association for the Defence of the French Language. Deschamps said that his group's battle was not so much against English as it was for the right to read, in French, advertisements published in France.

French concern over the spread of English is embodied in a language commission that decides on proper French usage of commonly employed English terms. Recently, for example, the commission decided that email is an improper term that should be replaced by "mel" from the French "messagerie electronique".

But for Georgia Tech the essence of the case was not linguistic, but instead centred around the nature of the Internet, according to the university's lawyer, Jacques Schaefer.

The two sides in the case differed sharply in their view of the Internet.

The language associations claimed it was a medium like any other, and therefore governable under French law.

However Georgia Tech's lawyer argued that since a user chooses to seek information at a particular Web site, the Internet is a more private form of communication than those media governed by the Toubon law.

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