Cybercrime

Computer-related specific acts

• Acts involving Racism/xenophobia
• Incitement to discrimination/hostility/violence

UEJF and Licra v Yahoo! Inc and Yahoo France

UNODC No.:
FRA001R

Fact Summary

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.

Commentary and Significant Features

Information and communication technologies pose new challenges to the definition of freedom of expression and to what is to be considered as protected speech. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic legal systems and is protected under international human rights law (Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). However, such right is not an unlimited one as governments impose restrictions aimed at protecting other fundamental rights. In particular, freedom of expression is commonly restricted in order to protect public security and prevent hate speech or obscenity. The internet allows users to share opinions and comments publicly with unprecedented ease. Legislative bodies and courts all around the world shall determine the extent to which internet posting can be prejudicial to protected fundamental rights and, thus, illegal.

The need for a balance between freedom of expression and prohibition of illegal speech has been addressed in different ways under different jurisdictions. In this landmark case, the French court opted for the protection against the threats stemming from Nazi propaganda. This interpretation is in line with the European tendency to limit freedom of speech when other fundamental rights are at stake. On the other hand, in other legal systems, such as the US, freedom of speech is afforded a higher degree of protection with very limited exceptions.

After the judgment of the High Court of Paris, Yahoo! US filed a complaint against  UEJF and LICRA before the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, claiming that the French decision was in breach of the First Amendment to the American Constitution and, thus, not enforceable in the US. The District Court upheld the claim. However, the decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals in 2004, which found that the District Court lacks jurisdiction over UEJF and LICRA (see Yahoo!, Inc v LICRA (US Court of Appeals for the Ninth circuit, Case no. 01-17424).

Cross Cutting

Liability

... as involves

• legal persons (corporations)

Offending

Details

• occurred across one (or more) international borders (transnationally)

Involved Countries

France

United States of America

Procedural Information

Legal System:
Civil Law
Latest Court Ruling:
High Court
Type of Proceeding:
Civil
 
 
Proceeding #1:
  • Stage:
    first trial
  • Official Case Reference:
    RG 05308
  • Decision Date:
    22 May 2000

    Court

    Court Title:

    Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Court)

     

    Location

  • City/Town:
    Paris
  • • Civil
    Description:

    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! was ordered to notify the Court of the measures taken at the hearing scheduled on July 24, 2000.

    Yahoo! US was ordered t 10,000 Francs to LICRA; Yahoo! US and Yahoo France were ordered to pay 10,000 to UEJF. 

     

    Sentences

    Sentence

    Other Sanctions:

    Adoption of measures to prevent further violations of Art. R645-1 of the French Criminal Code.

     
    Proceeding #2:
  • Stage:
    other
  • Official Case Reference:
    RG 05308
  • Decision Date:
    10 November 2000

    Court

    Court Title:

    Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Court)

     

    Location

  • City/Town:
    Paris
  • • Civil
    Description:

    Yahoo! US and Yahoo France challenged the decision of May 22, 2000 on the grounds that (i) the High Court of Paris was not competent, and (ii) it was technologically impossible to adopt the measures ordered by the court. The Court, however, confirmed its decision on the basis of expert witnesses' reports and established a 3-month deadline for compliance. In case of failure to implement the required measures, a penalty equal to 100,000 Francs per day would apply. Yahoo! eventually adopted the required measures.

     

    Sentences

    Sentence

    Other Sanctions:

    Adoption of measures to prevent further violations of Art. R645-1 of the French Criminal Code.

     

    Victims / Plaintiffs in the first instance

    Plaintiff:
    Union Des Etudiants Juifs De France (UEJF)

    The Union des étudiants juifs de France ("Union of French Jewish students", UEJF) is a French non-profit organization founded in 1944 whose aim is to help and support French Jewish students. The company has brought several high-profile lawsuits against multinational companies, including Yahoo! and Twitter.

    Plaintiff:
    Ligue contre la Racisme et l'Antisemitisme (LICRA)

    Ligue contre la Racisme et l'Antisemitisme (International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, LICRA) was founded in 1927 and its goal is to fight intolerance, xenophobia and exclusion. In particular, it focuses on countering Neonazism and Holocaust denial.

    Defendants / Respondents in the first instance

    Respondent:
    Yahoo!, Inc

    Yahoo!, Inc is a US corporation offering web-based services headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. It offers several online services including, a search engine, email accounts, news, financial information, questions and answers, video sharing. It is considered as one of the most popular websites in the US. Given its relevance in the field of online services, it has been involved in several lawsuits under different jurisdictions. Among other things, in 2012, Yahoo!, Inc sued Facebook in San Jose, California for the alleged infringement of Intellectual Property Laws. The companies eventually agreed on the settlement of the dispute.

    Respondent:
    Société Yahoo France

    Société Yahoo France, a company incorporated under the laws of France, is an affiliate of Yahoo!, Inc offering online services in the French language in the French territory.

    Charges / Claims / Decisions

    Respondent:
    Yahoo!, Inc
    Charge / Claim:

    Wearing or exhibiting uniforms, insignias or emblemas related to organizations or individuals responsible of crimes against humanity.

    Legislation / Statute / Code:

    French Criminal Code, Article R645-1

    Respondent:
    Société Yahoo France
    Charge / Claim:

    Wearing or exhibiting uniforms, insignias or emblemas related to organizations or individuals responsible of crimes against humanity.

    Legislation / Statute / Code:

    French Criminal Code, Article R645-1

    Sources / Citations

    Okoniewski, Elissa A. "Yahoo!, Inc. v. LICRA: The French Challenge to Free Expression on the Internet." American University International Law Review 18, no. 1 (2002): 295-339.

    http://www.lapres.net/ya2011.html

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