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Yahoo! anger at French Nazi auction ban

Yahoo! anger at French Nazi auction ban

PARIS, France -- A landmark court ruling preventing the sites of Internet company Yahoo! from selling Nazi memorabilia to French users has been branded a "dangerous precedent" by the web giant.

Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez, confirming a ruling he had issued in May, told Yahoo! on Monday to ban French users from English-language auction sites where Nazi books, daggers, SS badges and uniforms are sold by auction.

He gave Yahoo! until February to implement the ruling or face fines.

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Speaking after the court ordered Yahoo! Inc to prevent people in France from accessing U.S. sites selling the offending material, Yahoo! France Managing Director Philippe Guillanton said the ruling ran against the international nature of the World Wide Web.

"It is the first time to our knowledge that an online content editor has been asked to impose national limits to the content he makes available on the Internet," Guillanton said.

"This sets a very dangerous precedent," he added.

Under French law, it is illegal to exhibit or sell objects with racist overtones.

The French Yahoo! portal does not carry Nazi online auctions but French surfers, like all others, can switch over to services with a click of the mouse.

Such sales are possible in the U.S. due to the country's first amendment governing freedom of speech.

"We accept that this content is not acceptable for European standards, but it should be the price (worth paying) for the fantastic freedom the Internet gives people to access knowledge," Guillanton said.

Filtering problems

Three international computer experts told the court it would be possible to block access to the sales for up to 90 percent of people in France.

The trio expressed certain reservations about both the ethics and the practicality of the filtering system they proposed and Guillanton said anyone who really wanted to find the auctions would easily find another route to the sales.

"We are very concerned that we are being asked to introduce a series of measures put together by experts who themselves warned against their frailty and inefficiency," he said.

And he warned that the filter, which would use certain keywords to trigger the page blackout, could unwittingly prevent people from accessing genuine World War Two historical sites.

"For example, on Yahoo, when you type in the word Nazi you find a lot of anti-Nazi material, such as Anne Frank's diary."

Yahoo has two weeks to decide whether to appeal against the court ruling. Guillanton said his company could also seek to bring the matter before a U.S. court.

" is not doing anything unlawful. It is completely complying with the law of the country in which it operates and where its target audience is," he said.

"Yahoo auctions in the U.S. are ruled by the legal, moral and cultural principles of that country."

Reuters contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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