PARIS, May 23 (JTA) — A French court is holding Yahoo! accountable for its role in the burgeoning market of Nazi memorabilia available on the Internet and ordered it to stop allowing the goods to be sold in France.
The court on Monday told the Internet portal that it has until July 24 to “make it impossible” for Web surfers in France to purchase items put up for auction by international merchandise dealers on one of the company’s Web sites.
Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez told the firm the auctions were “an offense to the collective memory of the country” and ordered Yahoo! to pay fines of some $1,400 each to the two French-based groups that issued the complaint — the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, and the Union of French Jewish Students.
Marc Levy, a lawyer for the league, welcomed the judgment with “great satisfaction” and said that the Internet “risks becoming a zone of nonlaw.”
Levy added that he “was surprised that such legal action had not been taken earlier.”
The ruling is the first of its kind in France to condemn an Internet company for selling Nazi artifacts, and it may set a precedent for further legal actions.
Executives from the California-based company said they support the “emotional” cause of ridding the Internet of racism and said they would try to comply with the ruling.
But the director of Yahoo! France, Philippe Guillanton, questioned whether the company could comply with Monday’s ruling, saying “there is no filtration method that can be 100 percent effective” in blocking sales of Nazi items in France.
The ruling followed a string of recent protests against Internet sites for profiting from the sale of Nazi paraphernalia.
On Yahoo!’s auction site, more than 1,000 Nazi items are currently for sale, including Third Reich medals, uniforms and used Zyklon B canisters similar to those that were employed in the gas chambers.
Several other Internet auction sites, including eBay, feature similar items.
The availability of such items over the Internet is creating a difficult international legal situation.
In Germany, for example, it is illegal to sell Nazi artifacts, which are legally sold in the United States.
Auction-based Web sites, whose content crosses international borders at the click of a mouse, contend that no technology exists to prevent surfers in one country from accessing materials deemed illegal by other nations.
A larger issue, said Cristophe Pecnard, a lawyer for Yahoo!, is whether a French court can rule on “the English-language content of a U.S. site, run by a U.S. firm subject to U.S. law, for the sole reason that French users have access via Internet.”
“An identical stand by judges in foreign countries would oblige French operators of Internet sites to comply with the laws of more than 100 countries,” said Pecnard.
“Such a functioning of the justice system at international level constitutes a risk to the development of the Internet in France and the rest of the world.”