France penalizes Yahoo!

PARIS — Holding it accountable for its role in the marketing of Nazi memorabilia available on the Internet, a French court has ordered Yahoo! to stop allowing the goods to be sold in France.

The court Monday told the Internet portal that it has until July 24 to "make it impossible" for Web surfers in France to purchase Nazi items put up for auction on one of the company's Web sites.

Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez told the firm the auctions were "an offense to the collective memory of the country" and ordered Yahoo! to pay fines of some $1,400 each to the two French-based groups that issued the complaint — the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, and the Union of French Jewish Students.

Saying they would try to comply with the ruling, executives from the Santa Clara-based company said they support the "emotional" cause of ridding the Internet of racism.

But the director of Yahoo! France, Philippe Guillanton, questioned whether the company could comply with Monday's ruling, saying "there is no filtration method that can be 100 percent effective" in blocking sales of Nazi items in France.

The ruling followed a string of recent protests against Internet sites for profiting from the sale of Nazi paraphernalia.

On Yahoo!'s auction site, more than 1,000 Nazi items are for sale, including Third Reich medals, uniforms and used Zyklon B canisters similar to those that were employed in the gas chambers.

The availability of such items over Web sites such as Yahoo! and eBay is creating a difficult international legal situation.

In Germany, for example, it is illegal to sell Nazi artifacts, which are legally sold in the United States.

Auction-based Web sites contend that no technology exists to prevent surfers in one country from accessing materials deemed illegal by other nations.

The big issue, said Cristophe Pecnard, a Yahoo! lawyer, is a French court ruling on "the English-language content of a U.S. site, run by a U.S. firm subject to U.S. law, for the sole reason that French users have access via Internet."

Pecnard said getting Web site operators to comply with the laws of more than 100 countries could turn into a sticky mess.

"Such a functioning of the justice system at international level constitutes a risk to the development of the Internet in France and the rest of the world," he concluded.