Yahoo again argues Nazi speech case

A federal appeals court on Thursday heard arguments in a case that could determine whether foreign courts have jurisdiction over U.S.-based Internet service providers.

Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo Inc. wants the court to declare that a judgment by a French court in 2000 cannot be enforced in the U.S. The French court ordered Yahoo to make auctions for Nazi memorabilia and other related content on its U.S. Web site inaccessible to Web users in France. Yahoo has said that means removing the content from its U.S. Web site.

Yahoo's French subsidiary,, complies with French law, but Yahoo has not complied on its main Web site. In the French case, brought by the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) and the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), the judge imposed a daily fine of roughly US$20,000 at current exchange rates if the company did not comply with the ruling.

Following the French ruling in November 2000, Yahoo sued UEJF and LICRA in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose to find out if the foreign court's verdict could be enforced in the U.S.

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

Yahoo claimed the French judgment violates U.S. protections for freedom of speech and thus can't be enforced in the U.S., where UEJF and LICRA would have to collect. The district court sided with Yahoo but an appeals court last year ruled the district court acted prematurely because UEJF and LICRA had not sought enforcement of the French judgment.

Yahoo subsequently asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to again hear the case with 11 judges, which it did on Thursday. The appeals court may take many months to reach a verdict. The last time it reviewed this case, the court took almost two years to reach a verdict.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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