Yahoo asks U.S. court to block French ruling on Nazi memorabilia

The legal maneuvering continued this week in an international showdown that pits Yahoo Inc. against the French courts, with the complex issue of legal jurisdiction over the Web at stake.

Yahoo today asked the U.S. District Court in San Jose to enter a ruling declaring that the French government has no jurisdiction over the Santa Clara, Calif.-based online services company. The filing for a declaratory judgment was prompted by an order issued late last month by a French court demanding that Yahoo prohibit the sale of Nazi artifacts from its online auction site to users in that country (see story).

The sale of Nazi-affiliated items such as daggers, uniforms and badges is illegal in France, and last month's ruling upheld a previous ruling from by another French court. In that decision, the judge gave Yahoo three months to put a filter in place to block access to the Nazi memorabilia or face daily fines of 100,000 francs (approximately $13,000).

The declaratory judgment request challenges the enforceability of the fines, said Greg Wrenn, an associate general counsel at Yahoo. The case "has never been about content on a French site," he said. "The problem with the order of the judge in France is that it recognizes no borders on France's ability to regulate [Web site] content in the U.S."

Wrenn claimed it would be technically impossible for Yahoo to block users living in France from bidding on Nazi goods. He also said Yahoo believes the First Amendment protects the inclusion of such content on Web sites based in the U.S.

Dan Burk, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, agreed and predicted that the First Amendment protections will make U.S. enforcement of the French ban unlikely.

But Alan Sykes, a professor of international law at the University of Chicago Law School, said different countries may eventually be forced to negotiate a common approach to the issue. "The Internet is creating increased pressure for more international agreement on when we enforce foreign judgments," Sykes said.

Wrenn said the San Jose court is expected to set a hearing date on Yahoo's request in mid-January. The clock hasn't started ticking on the three-month deadline to comply with the French court order, as Yahoo hasn't been officially served with the document yet. But the French court could try to seize Yahoo assets in the U.S. to cover any fines as early as next March.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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