Yahoo! attacked for racist content

Suzanna Kerridge, Paris correspondent

Suzanna Kerridge, Paris correspondent

A French State prosecutor is asking the French courts to order an injunction and constraints against Yahoo! for hosting a site that sells Nazi memorabilia. The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra) brought the case against the Californian-based company following the launch of an auction site that sold Neo-Nazi, Nazi and Ku Klux Klan objects. It is against French law to exhibit or sell objects with racist overtones. LICRA lawyer Stephane Lilti accused Yahoo! of being an "ally to revisionists" and claimed the company contributed to the racist propaganda. However, Yahoo! retaliated and claimed it was impossible to monitor the content of every site it hosted. Sherree Westell, partner at law firm Taylor Joynson Garrett, said: "France actually has jurisdiction to prosecute sites accessible within the country. Quite often you find that the court says a Web presence does not give sufficient grounds to apply the laws of their country to the organisers of the Web site. "But how much responsibility a service provider takes depends on what their role is, whether it is just a case of hosting or if they provide email services or maintain the site," she added. However, within a few weeks service providers will be excused all responsibility for the content of the sites they host following the introduction of the European ecommerce directive. Westell explained: "The idea is rather than have the current situation where ISPs can either comply to all the laws of the world, which is impossible, or the laws of the country they target, the position of service provider becomes clear as to which jurisdiction they have to comply with. If they are acting as a mere conduit then they do not have any liability - they are off the hook." Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez is expected to give a ruling on 21 May.