For the second time, France has filed lawsuits against the American Internet company Yahoo! for violating French laws against racism. What makes these cases so important is the fact that though Yahoo!’s content is hosted in the United States, France still thinks it has the legal right to file these lawsuits, thus trying to make a United States company obey French law.
The problem stems from Yahoo!’s auction site, which allows users to sell most items, including Nazi memorabilia. This merchandise, which France holds as being anti-Semitic, is available for French citizens to access, a breech of their anti-racism laws.
If the computers hosting this content were stationed in Paris, then there would be no problem with France shutting the site down. But because these computers are hosting the content from American soil, American law governs them. France’s suggestion is Yahoo! should monitor the country of origin and block French citizens from accessing any material that violates French law. It is ridiculous for France to think an American company should spend the money or waste its resources to follow the laws of foreign countries.
If France feels the need to censor what its citizens are allowed to view online, then it needs to be the one enforcing these laws, not a foreign nation. It needs to tell its Internet service providers that this content needs to be blocked. Then its own companies would be paying to comply with these rules, not an American company obeying the laws of its own country.
It’s not that the United States is completely oblivious to this problem; we have to deal with it here too. There are many types of Web sites available to American citizens that violate local, state and national laws.
One such type of site is that which hosts child pornography. American law strictly forbids these types of sites from being hosted or accessed from the United States. Another, called a “warez” site, offers illegal copies of computer programs.
If the Internet laws of the hosting country are lax or nonexistent, does the United States have a right to tell that country to change its laws? Absolutely not. Perhaps one of the most basic rights of a sovereign nation is the right to make its own laws as it sees fit.
The way to combat these infractions of Internet law is to combat them from home. The FBI works hard to make sure that American citizens are obeying the law as they surf the Web. While in some countries, it may be legal to host pirated copies of computer programs, it is illegal to download those programs onto an American computer. If someone chooses to do so, they can be fined or prosecuted.
What France needs to do is set up a way to internally block these types of “offensive” Web sites from being accessed by its citizens. This could be done through the various French Internet service providers or by a separate government organization.
The bottom line is the United States shouldn’t have to foot the bill to comply with French laws that violate our First Amendment rights to free speech. Let them control their country, and us control ours.
The following editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.