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Saturday, 23 December, 2000, 01:57 GMT
Yahoo fights French court
Banned swastika AP
France, like Germany and Italy, has strict anti-Nazi laws
Internet service provider Yahoo has started new legal moves in the US to try to block a French court's order that it keep computer users in France from accessing online auctions of Nazi memorabilia.

Yahoo France does not carry the auctions - banned under French law - but French internet users can access the company's US site at the click of a mouse.

Yahoo says it is technologically impossible to enforce last month's ruling that it block users in France from the site or face massive fines.

At the heart of the legal argument is the question of who owns the internet and whether it could or should be regulated.

In papers filed in US District Court in San Jose, California on Thursday, lawyers for Yahoo said the Paris court ruling, if allowed to stand, would have a "significant chilling effect" on internet users' freedom of expression.

Daily fine

The company also argued the French court did not have jurisdiction over content produced by a US business, and asked the court to reassure the internet industry that such orders were unenforceable.

In November Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez gave Yahoo three months to find a way to prevent French users from accessing auction pages with Nazi-related objects, and said the company would be fined $13,000 for each day after the deadline that it did not comply.

Yahoo's lawyer attorney Greg Wrenn said at the time that the company would ignore the ruling and refuse to pay the fines unless a US court enforced it.

Fears for democracy

Civil liberties organisations in the US have warned that if the French decision is allowed to stand, repressive governments could use the same tactic against websites run by democracy groups and human-rights activists.

Swastika-emblazoned flags and other Nazi collectibles are among the thousands of items for sale at Yahoo's auction site. They include items such as a swastika T-shirt, an SS recruitment poster, and a print of a watercolour painted by Adolf Hitler.

Some collectors have argued these are all legitimate historical artefacts worthy of preservation.

In April, two French groups - the Union of Jewish Students and the International Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitism League (Licra) - sued Yahoo for allegedly breaking French law barring the display or sale of racist material.

Online auction site eBay has dozens of Nazi collectibles for sale, but the site warns sellers not to accept bids on such items from people in France, Germany, Austria or Italy because of anti-Nazi laws in those countries.

Yahoo said it expects it will be at least a few months before the US court makes a ruling.

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | Europe
Yahoo hits back at Nazi ruling
14 Nov 00 | Business
Software pirates face legal action
27 Nov 00 | Talking Point
Can the web be regulated?
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