LICRA v. Yahoo! Inc.
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Yahoo! is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California. Through its United States-based website yahoo.com, Yahoo! makes available a variety of Internet services, including a search engine, e-mail, web page hosting, instant messaging, auctions, and chat rooms. While some of these services rely on content created by Yahoo!, others are forums and platforms for user-generated content.
Yahoo! users can, for example, design their own web pages, share opinions on social and political message boards, play fantasy baseball games, and post items to be auctioned for sale. Yahoo! does not monitor such user-created content before it is posted on the web through Yahoo! sites.
Yahoo!'s United States website is written in English. It targets users in the United States and relies on servers located in California. Yahoo!'s foreign subsidiaries, such as Yahoo! France, Yahoo! U.K., and Yahoo! India, have comparable websites for their respective countries. The Internet addresses of these foreign-based websites contain their two-letter country designations, such as fr.yahoo.com, uk.yahoo.com, and in.yahoo.com. Yahoo!'s foreign subsidiaries' sites provide content in the local language, target local citizens, and adopt policies that comply with local law and customs. In actual practice, however, national boundaries are highly permeable. For example, any user in the United States can type www.fr.yahoo.com into his or her web browser and thereby reach Yahoo! France's website. Conversely, any user in France can type www.yahoo.com into his or her browser, or click the link to Yahoo.com on the Yahoo! France home page, and thereby reach yahoo.com.
Sometime in early April 2000, LICRA's chairman sent by mail and fax a cease and desist letter, dated April 5, 2000, to Yahoo!'s headquarters in Santa Clara, California. The letter, written in English, stated in part:
[W]e are particularly choked [sic] to see that your Company keeps on presenting every day hundreds of nazi symbols or objects for sale on the Web.
This practice is illegal according to French legislation and it is incumbent upon you to stop it, at least on the French Territory.
Unless you cease presenting nazi objects for sale within 8 days, we shall size [sic] the competent jurisdiction to force your company to abide by the law.
On April 10, five (rather than eight) days after the date on the letter, LICRA filed suit against Yahoo! and Yahoo! France in the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris. On April 20, UEJF joined LICRA's suit in the French court. LICRA and UEJF used United States Marshals to serve process on Yahoo! in California.