Yahoo!'s Battle Over French Court's Jurisdiction Lingers On

While Yahoo!'s legal battle over a French court's order to restrict access to its U.S. Web site lingers, the parties seem ready to let old dogs lie.

NEW YORK -- While Yahoo!'s legal battle over a French court's order to restrict access to its U.S. Web site lingers, the parties seem ready to let old dogs lie.

On Aug. 24, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco held that the U.S. District Court had no personal jurisdiction over two French associations that first filed a complaint against the Internet service provider in France, resulting in an order requiring Yahoo! to block Nazi memorabilia on its U.S. Web site.

In April 2000, La Ligue Contre Le Racisme Et L'Antisemitisme (LICRA) and L'Union Des Etudiants Juifs De France (UEJF) discovered they could access Yahoo's U.S. site from France and view Nazi materials. They filed a complaint in a French court alleging violations of the French Nazi Symbols Act, which bans exhibition of Nazi propaganda for sale and prohibits French citizens from purchasing or possessing the material.

Since Yahoo!'s French site did not include the material, the international Internet community was shocked when the French court ordered Yahoo! to block the material on its U.S. site in May 2000. Later that year the court reaffirmed its order, giving Yahoo! three months to comply with the order, which included a fine of 100,000 francs per day (app. $13,300).

Rather than block the material, Yahoo! removed some of the material from its site and filed a complaint in the Northern California U.S. District Court against LICRA and UEJF, seeking a declaration that the French order was unenforceable under the First Amendment.

The District Court granted Yahoo!'s motion for summary judgment, holding that the French order violated the First Amendment and was unenforceable. The associations appealed in 2002.

Although the French associations stated to the District Court that they did not intend to enforce the fines in the U.S. since Yahoo! had removed most of the material, the legal proceeding continued.

Nearly two years passed since the Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case.

In finding that the U.S. court had no personal jurisdiction over the French associations, the appellate court wrote that LICRA and UEJF were not physically present in the U.S.

In addition, they had not attempted to enforce the French order or collect the fines, and their activities of seeking a French court order and sending cease-and-desist letters to Yahoo! did not subject them to U.S. jurisdiction. Although personal jurisdiction can be found when foreign activities are wrongful and are expressly aimed at someone in America, the associations' activities were not wrongful.

"LICRA and UEJF are within their rights to bring suit in France against Yahoo! for violation of French speech law.... Yahoo! must wait for LICRA and UEJF to come to the United States to enforce the French judgment before it is able to raise its First Amendment claim."

Judge Brunetti wrote an extensive dissent to this 2-1 decision.

Richard A. Jones, who represented the associations in the U.S. case, is not aware of any intent by the associations to pursue enforcement of the French order. Robert C. Vanderet, attorney for Yahoo!, also said that he understands the associations to have "no present plans to enforce" the French order.


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