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French ISPs will appear in a Paris court this Friday, charged with allowing French Internet users to access a U.S.-based portal publishing Nazi and racist-related content. J’Accuse, an association aimed at stamping out racism on the Internet, filed the case against 13 French ISPs, as well as the ISP industry group l’Association des Fournisseurs d’Acc’s et de Services Internet (AFA), in mid-June. If the theme sounds familiar, that’s because J’Accuse was founded by Marc Knobel, a member of French anti-racism group LICRA who became famous last year for orchestrating a lawsuit against Yahoo that called for the U.S. company to block French Internet users from accessing Nazi-related auction items. That case was decided in favor of the two plaintiffs — LICRA and Jewish student union UEJF — but is currently being appealed by Yahoo in a San Jose, Calif., court. The new case revolves around a Web site based in the U.S. called Front14.org, whose motto is “Online hate at its best.” The site acts as a gateway to hundreds of racist and hate-related sites, which it hosts on its servers. Some are accessible to all Web surfers and others are for members only. “These sites are forbidden in most of Europe,” said Knobel. In the U.S., publishing hate-related information is protected under the First Amendment. J’Accuse charges the ISPs, which include Wanadoo, LibertySurf and AOL France, of breaking a French law that forbids French citizens from possessing content that glorifies Nazism. Knobel said ISPs should be responsible for putting filtering systems in place to block French users from accessing the Front14 site. In another aspect of the case, J’Accuse has also filed a suit in the Paris court against the Front14 site for hosting French sites containing hate-related content. It is illegal in France to publish such content, so J’Accuse claims Front14 is breaking the law by allowing French citizens to host their sites on its servers located in the U.S. One such site hosted by Front14 is Whitewarrior, a French-language white supremacy site. Front14 did not respond to e-mails asking for comment. The court will be tried in the Paris Court of Grand Instance, presided over by Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez — the same judge who handed down the decision against Yahoo last November. Much like the Yahoo case, which singled out one U.S. Internet firm of many offering Nazi-related goods, J’Accuse wants to make an example out of Front14. Knobel admits that there are thousands of other sites offering the same kind of information, but said he chose to attack Front14 because of its international acclaim as “an incubator for Nazi-related sites.” The AFA and the ISPs it represents — which together make up 87 percent of the French Internet access market — counter that they should not be responsible for monitoring their users’ behavior. “We are only carriers, we are not and should not be responsible for monitoring our users to tell them what and what not to look at on the Internet,” said Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, a delegate at the AFA. It is not an ISP’s job to decide which content is objectionable or to spy on its users, he said. “We cannot become the police.” Le Toquin added that the AFA’s efforts to develop self-filtering techniques — whereby users set up a filter to block content they find objectionable — are sufficient. He also said the AFA is confused as to why J’Accuse is only attacking 13 ISPs out of the 150 that exist in France and focusing on just one site. If ISPs are going to be held legally responsible for blocking illegal content, the regulations would have to extend to pirated music, online casinos, advertising for alcohol and certain kinds of pornography, he said. “Front14 is just an infinitesimal part of everything illegal you can find on the Net,” he said. Similar issues surrounding the responsibility of ISPs to control access to illegal content have already surfaced in France, as well as in many other countries. A year ago, in a case pitting the UEJF against French hosting company Multimania, a judge decided that Multimania could not be held liable for the content its users published on the site. In the U.S., ISPs are commonly thought to have no responsibility over what their users view online. Knobel doesn’t buy the AFA’s argument, citing the example that several Swiss ISPs have already blocked access to the Front14 site. “They say they are only responsible for the highway, and it’s the police who should deal with problems on that highway, but I say the operators of the highway should make sure it adheres to national laws.” Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Rock the Cyber-Casbah Both Hands on the Wheel, New York Publishers Purge Freelancers Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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