P A R I S, Nov. 20, 2000 -- In a landmark ruling with potential implications for Web users around the world, a French court today ordered U.S. Internet giant Yahoo! to bar French users from sites selling Nazi memorabilia.
Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez confirmed a ruling that he first issued on May 22 ordering Yahoo! to prevent people in France from accessing English-language sites that auction Nazi books, daggers, SS badges and uniforms.
He had stayed the decision pending testimony from three computer experts on whether the ruling was technically viable.
Gomez ordered Yahoo! to conform with the findings of the panel, submitted on Nov. 6, that a filter system registering keywords could block access to the offending sites for 90 percent of French Web surfers.
He gave the California-based company 90 days to enact the measures and said it would be fined 100,000 francs ($13,000) for each day it exceeded the deadline.
The case was brought to court by the Paris-based International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Union of French Jewish Students. A third French anti-racist group, MRAP, joined the action at a later stage.
Gomez upheld their complaint that Yahoo! had to respect French laws prohibiting the exhibition or sale of objects that incite racial hatred.
The ruling could have implications for other big U.S. Internet businesses with global reach, such as the e-retailer Amazon.com and online auctioneer eBay.
Yahoo! had fought the case primarily on the grounds that its English-language Yahoo.com services are U.S.-governed and that auctions of Nazi material cannot be barred because of U.S. constitutional rights to freedom of speech.
Yahoo!’s French-language portal Yahoo.fr does not host such auctions, but French surfers, like all others, can switch over to Yahoo.com services with a click of the mouse.
It had also argued that there was no fail-safe way to identify French surfers and block access.
Three Web security experts told the court earlier this month that a filtering system could work by testing the so-called Internet Service Provider address of Web-surfers as well as the keywords they used.
They said such a system would work for up to 90 percent of users.
One of the team, Winton Cerf of the United States, said at the time that he believed the move was contrary to the very idea of a World Wide Web, an electronic galaxy where information and ideas were exchanged with no physical borders.
In New York, Yahoo! shares were trading at $49-1/4 shortly after the ruling, down from their opening $50-3/8.