Christine Treguier on Mon, 27 Mar 2000 02:21:43 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] France again

Decision of the french supreme court of appeal :  no prescrition on

On march 21the supreme court rejected the "pourvoi en cassation"
of french artist Jean Louis Costes, who was contesting a decision of
the court of appeal against him; the court had judged that on
Internet, the contents cannot be restricted by prescription, because
it is assimilated to  "continuous publishing".

These decisions are serious threats to freedom of expression in France
the decision is going against the actual constant legislation : it is
the first time a judge is contesting the principle according to which
expression offenses are instantaneous offenses and a prescription
delay has to be calculated from the publication date.
The principle establishing that an author cannot be sued for a content
after a 3 months delay after publishing, is one of the foundations of
freedom of expression since the 19th century. At the beginning of
Napolean reign it was three years. immediately after, it felt to three
months. It has never been interrupted since then, except during nazi
occupation and Vichy.

The objective was to protect authors from beeing sued ad infinitum, a
form of persecution and pressure which would equal censorship.
The benefits of prescription have been enlarged to all medias, without
exception, as they appeared. Logically it should apply to Internet.

The backlash is extremely serious : authors and  persons
responsibles   for contents ( a very sensible notion at the moment in
France) will be permanently under threat of trials which will  lead
them to ruin and closing of any "disturbing" site and to
self-censorship of those who will accept the rules (strange... I wrote
that already an hour ago).
The threat is also on all the cultural, heritage, historical and
informationnal contents, as soon as they will be published on the Net.
There will be some individuals, associations or public services to
dislike part of them and sue them, no matter if they were published
eight hundred years ago and they belong to public domain.

A bit of history on the case : Costes is an undergournd  performer and
musician, well know for, to make short, pointing at the society's
disfunctionnings through "pornographic parodies". he was sued two
years ago by a jewish students association (AEIJF) claiming  his
lyrics published on the Net were nazi and incitations to racial hate.
He was condemned, cast  appeal, and went to supreme court because of
the non prescription decision risks a jail penalty of two years, a X
hundred thousands francs of fine, the closing of his site and... a two
years probation period during which he would be forbidden to produce
similar artpieces.

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