Tuesday, December 07, 2004

French Law Mandates Message D'Erreur

French chauvinism comes to the web, again. In the (in)famous Yahoo! case France sought the enforcement of French (anti-hate speech) law on U.S. soil through the use of geolocation techniques. Now a proposal for law mandates that error messages emitted by internet sites that are not exclusively targeted on a foreign (non-French) audience are written in French: Error becomes Erreur.

The proposal, to be voted on in 2005, is based on a ten year old law, the Toubon law, that sees on the use of French and gives expression to Article 2 of the French Constitution, which determines that French is the language of the Republic. The Toubon law demands that all advertising of goods and services in France is in French or include a French translation. Since its enactment the Toubon law has been used to target internet sites, specifically of (commercial) institutions operating in France that have an all-English website. That the French mean business with preserving their language, becomes clear from this article on the first Toubon lawsuit, seven years ago.

The current proposal wants websites that are targeted at French citizen-consumers to be in French, or have a sufficient translation. How to enforce this? The proposal doesn't mention it, but it is likely that (international) commercial institutions that reside within France will be fined when they do not comply. Geolocation - tailoring of website content on the basis of geographic (IP address) information - may probably be one of the options to technically enforce the law. Another would be that we all start to write with outrageous French accents. Reterritorialisation of the internet, drawing the national boundaries in digital lines, France is at it again.

Through Legalis.net

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