Yahoo Seeks Legal Protection
Yahoo Inc. asked a federal appeals court Thursday for legal protection for U.S.-based Internet portals whose content is protected by the 1st Amendment, but is illegal in foreign countries.
Some of the judges acknowledged the need for a shield for American companies in such situations, but suggested it was premature in the case of Yahoo, which is challenging a fine levied by a Paris court four years ago for allowing the site’s French users to buy and sell Nazi memorabilia, in violation of French law.
Yahoo asked the 11-judge panel of the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday to prevent the two French human rights groups that sued from collecting the fine -- now at about $15 million and growing by as much as $15,000 per day.
But during 70 minutes of arguments, some judges noted that the French groups haven’t tried to collect. “Where’s the beef? Why are we here?” asked Judge Ronald Gould.
Yahoo attorney Robert Vanderet said the human rights groups might try to collect, and that Yahoo wasn’t the only Internet portal that needed to know whether U.S. courts would shield companies from being liable abroad for lawfully protected speech originating in America.
Yahoo’s French subsidiary, yahoo.fr, complies with France’s law, but a French judge ordered Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo.com to strip Nazi paraphernalia from the portal’s most popular site, yahoo.com. Yahoo did not appeal the French order, and instead sought protection in U.S. courts.
A federal judge in San Jose ruled in 2002 that Yahoo, as an American company, was not liable. The human rights groups appealed. A three-judge 9th Circuit panel overturned the judge, saying he ruled prematurely, because France’s Union of Jewish Students and the International Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitism League haven’t acted on the French judgment. Yahoo then sought Thursday’s rehearing before an 11-judge panel.
Judge Raymond Fisher speculated that Yahoo’s case was premature, but acknowledged the implications for free speech: “They’re seeking a remedy that is going to have a major impact in the United States.”
Yahoo says its international subsidiaries comply with local laws, and said it’s technologically impossible to censor its U.S. site for users in France.