A federal court ruled that Yahoo Inc. doesn't have to comply with a French
court's order that the company block French users from accessing Nazi-related
materials on its Web site, a decision seen by many as an important victory for
free speech on the Internet.
The Wall Street Journal
reports the ruling from Judge Jeremy Fogel of the U.S. District Court in San
Jose, Calif., could have far-reaching implications that limit the ability of
overseas courts to apply local speech laws to individuals and companies within
the U.S that publish content on the Web.
Citing the First Amendment on Wednesday, Judge Fogel said in his ruling that while 'France has the sovereign right to regulate what speech is permissible in France, this Court may not enforce a foreign order that violates the protections of the United States Constitution by chilling protected speech that occurs simultaneously within our borders.'
Yahoo, of Santa Clara, Calif., was sued last year in
French court by two antiracist groups, the International League against Racism
and Anti-Semitism and the Union of Jewish Students, for permitting the sale on
its auction site of Nazi uniforms and other controversial memorabilia, items
that are banned under French laws that prohibit the sale of racist materials.
That court later ordered Yahoo to block French citizens from accessing the controversial items or face a fine of 100,000 francs ($13,692) for every day of noncompliance.
The ruling alarmed free-speech groups in America because
the auction items in question were on Yahoo's U.S. auction site, not its French
site, which long has banned Nazi materials.
This year, Yahoo removed most of the hate-related items from its U.S. auction
site, though some Nazi coins and other items remain.