The United States loves to enforce its laws in other countries, such as Panama, Granada, Haiti and so on. But can other developed countries practice the same "diplomacy"? U.S. business may not like the answer if La Tribunal des référés, the French emergency court, decides to fine Santa Clara, Calif.-based Yahoo for failing to respect French laws.
Yahoo's alleged crime is allowing French citizens to view online auctions of Nazi memorabilia on its U.S. website at www.yahoo.com. Such material is considered an incitement to racial hatred, an illegal activity in France. Yahoo contends it is not practical to identify French Internet users visiting its U.S. website and block their access to certain content.
The judge has twice delayed his decision to study Yahoo's claim. At the last hearing, on Aug. 11, he set up an advisory committee made up of one American, one French citizen and one other European. Yahoo returns to court on Nov. 6.
Businesses with websites or e-commerce operations that could have international appeal must take account of local laws and customs, says Alexander Drobik, Gartner Group's vice president of e-business management strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Cynics have suggested that Yahoo was singled out for action because it has a French subsidiary upon which the courts could impose sanctions. Significantly, Yahoo France SA moved quickly to block access to Nazi-related auctions on its French-language site, but this has not stopped the case against Yahoo.