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Yahoo Appeals Nazi Verdict

Yahoo Appeals Nazi Verdict
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Mar 26, 2005 6:00 AM PST    Text size: 
SAN FRANCISCO – In a landmark case that could determine whether foreign courts may exercise legal jurisdiction over U.S.-based online businesses whose websites are available within foreign countries, Yahoo has appealed a French court's decision barring it from offering Nazi memorabilia for sale.

The judgement, handed down in 2000 by a French court, required Yahoo to make Nazi memorabilia available on the site's online auctions unavailable to French users, who are legally barred from trading in such items.

While Yahoo.fr, the company's French subsidiary, has complied with the ruling, the French court has also demanded that its U.S.-based website, Yahoo.com, also comply, due to its availability in France.

Yahoo brought the case before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose 11 judges considered the motion this past Thursday. No imminent verdict is anticipated, however, as the court deliberated for nearly two years before rendering an opinion the first time it heard the case.

The original French case was brought against Yahoo by the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) and the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF), resulting in a daily fine of approximately $20,000 if the company did not comply with court ordered cessation of the offering of this material.

In response, Yahoo sued LICRA and UEJF in U.S. District Court in an attempt to determine the reach of the French court and whether or not its judgement was enforceable within the United States. Yahoo claimed that the French decision violates Constitutionally protected freedom of speech and is impossible to enforce within the United States. Although the district court agreed with Yahoo, the appeals court later ruled that the district court "acted prematurely."

"We should be able to learn what our obligations are in terms of this foreign judgment," said Mary Wirth, senior international counsel for Yahoo. "We have to choose between censoring constitutionally protected speech and letting fines accrue daily."

The outcome of these proceedings could set an international precedent for enforcement of Internet laws and their applicability to international website operators--a case in point being the enforcement of U.S. "2257" record keeping regulations and their use against overseas providers of adult content.

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