SAN JOSE — In a case provoking tough questions over who controls the Internet, Yahoo! Inc. is asking a federal judge to block a French court’s order that the popular Web portal keep computer users in France from accessing auctions of Nazi paraphernalia.
In papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose on Thursday, attorneys for Santa Clara-based Yahoo! contended that the French court violated the company’s free speech rights and does not have jurisdiction over content produced by an American business.
Yahoo! asked the U.S. court for “declaratory relief” and hoped it would reassure the Internet industry that such orders are unenforceable. Yahoo! is also considering filing an appeal in France.
Swastika-emblazoned flags and other Nazi collectibles are among the thousands of items for sale at http://auctions.yahoo.com. A user in Washington state was offering an “Ultra Rare Nazi Banner MUST SEE!!” for $600 on Friday.
In April, two French groups, the Union of Jewish Students and the International Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitism League, sued Yahoo! for allegedly breaking France’s strict hate laws. It is illegal in France to display or sell racist material.
Last month, Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez gave Yahoo! three months to find a way to prevent French users from accessing auction pages with Nazi-related objects, and said Yahoo! would be fined $13,000 for each day after the deadline that it did not comply.
Yahoo! associate general counsel Greg Wrenn said at the time that Yahoo! would ignore the ruling and refuse to pay the fines unless a U.S. court enforced it. The company contended that blocking all French users would be technically impossible.
Civil liberties organizations in the United States have warned that if the French decision is allowed to stand, repressive governments in other countries could use the same tactic against Web sites run by democracy groups and human-rights activists.
Ygal El Harrar, president of the Union of Jewish Students of France, said Yahoo! has a moral obligation to take responsibility for the auctions it facilitates.
“Instead of trying to put in place filters, they’re trying to use every legal recourse possible,” he said Friday. “I’m wondering if Yahoo! doesn’t want to promote Naziism. What I’m saying is tough. But I just wonder what Yahoo! wants out of this affair.”
Yahoo! competitor eBay.com also has dozens of Nazi collectibles for sale, though the site warns sellers not to accept bids on such items from people in France, Germany, Austria or Italy because of anti-Nazi laws in those countries. An eBay spokesman would not comment on the Yahoo! case.