A French court has ruled that Lucent Technologies was liable for an illicit Internet site created by one of the company's employees, because the worker created the site on company time and with equipment provided by Lucent.
The controversial decision, issued by the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Marseille on 11 June, found in favour of Escota, a roads authority for southern France. Escota had sued Nicolas Breil, his employer Lucent and Web hosting service Multimania, now owned by Lycos.
The case revolved around a site created by Breil to air his grievances about Escota and its road tolls. The site, called Escroca, used a logo based on Escota's, with added visual elements "of a sexual nature", the court said. Escroca is a pun on the term "escroc", or "swindler".
The court found that the site constituted a "brand forgery" because of its use of the Escota trademark; the defence that the site was satirical was thrown out because the use of the trademark "was not guided by the intention to amuse... but was motivated by hateful sentiments." Lucent was also found responsible because Breil created the site on company time, using company equipment.
Under French law, the employer would ordinarily be exempt from responsibility if the employee were acting outside the limits of his job and without company authorisation. However, the court ruled that Breil's acts were effectively within the limits of his terms of employment because, in part, "the free consultation of Internet sites was authorised" by the employer and, in part, because "no specific interdiction had been formulated against the creation of Web sites or the supply of information on personal pages."
Lucent and Breil were ordered to pay up to 4,000 euros to Escota for the publication of the decision in two national French newspapers, and Breil was also ordered to pay a symbolic one euro penalty.