The case at hand is a civil suit concerning the responsibility of internet corporations for content posted by users on their websites. The defendants were Yahoo!, Inc (hereinafter “Yahoo! US”), a US corporation incorporated under the laws of Delaware and its affiliate, Société Yahoo France (hereinafter “Yahoo! France”), incorporated under the laws of France, (hereinafter both referred to as “Yahoo!”) Yahoo US! offers online services accessible by internet users worldwide. Yahoo! France offers such services in the French language targeting local users. Among the services provided, Yahoo! runs an auction website where users can post items for sale and other users worldwide can place bids. Yahoo! warns users that they must abide by its rules and refrain from selling items and entering into prohibited transactions under the applicable domestic law.
UEJF and LICRA, two French non-profit organizations fighting anti-Semitism (hereinafter the “Plaintiffs”), filed a civil complaint against Yahoo! US and Yahoo! France before the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris. UEJF and LICRA alleged that Yahoo! allowed the posting of illegal items, including Nazi paraphernalia and Third Reich memorabilia, in violation of Article R645-1 of the French Criminal Code. This provision prohibits to “wear or exhibit” in public uniforms, insignias and emblems which “recall those used” by (i) an organisation declared illegal in application of Art. 9 of the Nuremberg Charter, or (ii) a person found guilty of crimes against humanity.
The High Court of Paris, in its judgment of 22 May 2000, upheld the claim filed by UEJF and LICRA. The Court ordered Yahoo! US to take all the measures necessary to dissuade and prevent access to auctions for Nazi memorabilia and content supporting Nazism. The court ordered Yahoo! France to warn users that, should Yahoo!’s search results include content prohibited under French law, they shall refrain from accessing such content to avoid incurring legal sanctions.
Yahoo! US and Yahoo! France challenged the competence of the High Court of Paris and, in any case, requested the court to reconsider its decision since compliance would be technologically impossible. However, on November 20, 2000, the High Court of Paris, after gathering expert opinions, reasserted its competence, confirmed its previous decision and established a 3-month deadline for compliance. As a result, Yahoo! amended its auction guidelines and warned its users that the sale of items prohibited under Article R645-1 of the French Criminal Code is not allowed.