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Yahoo! defends itself over Nazi auctions

Yahoo! sets out its position to the High Court in Paris
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

Yahoo! puts its case to the High Court in Paris following attempts from anti-racist groups to have its American auction site blocked to French users.

The case brought by the Union of Jewish Students and the International League Against Racism claims that Yahoo!'s auction site is an offence to the collective memory of France because of the large collection of Nazi memorabilia available -- 1163 items last count. French law prevents the sale of objects with racist overtones.

Yahoo! claims it does its best to "comply with the laws in the countries that we do business with", but in a report submitted to the court Monday claims it is "technically impossible" to comply with the blocking.

"In order to render access impossible we would have had to identify the geographical location of individuals, indentify whether material was racist and then block access," says a Yahoo! spokeswoman. "The report, with the backing of independent consultancy EdelWeb concludes this is impossible."

The High Court has until 11 August to consider the evidence submitted by Yahoo!. If the court finds against Yahoo! the portal could face fines of up to £100,000 a day. Yahoo!'s French site has already blocked access.

The case bears remarkable similarities to a case brought in Germany in 1995 against CompuServe in which the former head of CompuServe was accused of aiding and abetting the spread of child pornography.

Yaman Akdeniz, head of CyberRights & CyberLiberties is shocked that courts are still showing a lack of understanding about how it is impossible to govern the Internet via domestic laws. "If the French court understood the Internet it would realise that it is technically impossible to block French users from accessing its content," he says. "What they are doing is applying national laws to an international medium. The nature of the Internet needs to be taken into account."

Akdeniz thinks the outcome is obvious. "As far as I understand it will go against Yahoo!," he says. He believes there will only be one move for Yahoo! to make if the case does not go in its favour. "Yahoo! will leave France, there will be nothing else they can do."

Yahoo! believes the case has significance to the future of Internet jurisdiction. "It you follow it through to its logical conclusion then every site would be subject to the rules of every country it has a presence in," says the spokeswoman.

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