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GT Lorraine sued over Web site


By Mindy Wiggins
News Staff

Because of the Olympics, Georgia Tech has received a great deal of worldwide attention throughout the past year. Once again, the eyes of the world are focused on the school. This time, however, Georgia Tech Lorraine, the European extension of the university, has sparked worldwide interest because of a lawsuit.

On January 6, arguments were heard in Tribunal Court in Paris in a case filed by two French associations against Georgia Tech Lorraine. These two non-profit French organizations allege that Georgia Tech Lorraine's Web site, which is offered in English and not in French, is in violation of the Toubon Law.

This law, enacted in 1994, specifies that French should be used in all aspects of supplying goods and services in France. Thus, in effect, it states that business and advertisement in France must be conducted in French. Only a few legal suits have been filed on the basis of the Toubon Law since its 1994 adoption.

The two organizations that filed the complaint are known as Future of the French Language and Defense of the French Language. Both devend the French language as the primary language of France.

"They have strong and sincere concerns about the encroachment of English into the French language. They feel that the language is definitely worth defending," said William Rhodes, a professor at Georgia Tech Lorraine.

The Web pages under attack contain information regarding classes, applications, costs of attending the school, and other general information about Georgia Tech Lorraine. Only directions to the school are in French. The pages have numerous links to the Georgia Tech Web site.

Georgia Tech Lorraine, because of the fact that it is an extension of Georgia Tech, is an English-speaking institution. Thus, the creators of the Georgia Tech Lorraine Web site chose to make the information available in English.

A ruling is expected on February 24. If the decision is not in favor of Georgia Tech Lorraine, the school will be forced to pay a fine of up to 4000 French francs (about $800). Additional damages could be assessed. An unfavorable decision would also force Georgia Tech Lorraine to translate all of its Web pages information into French.

A ruling against Georgia Tech Lorraine will not affect Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech Lorraine exclusively. This case represents the first legal action to be taken on the Internet on the basis of language.

If the decision is not in favor of Georgia Tech Lorraine, the case will serve as a precedent and the ruling will apply to anyone who wishes to set up a business-related Web pages in France.

"If, indeed, Georgia Tech Lorraine loses, this has profound implications for many international companies doing extensive business in France. There are huge American corporations that have very significant interests in the French market," explained Hans Puttgen, Director of Georgia Tech Lorraine.

Several Georgia Tech Lorraine students were asked to give their opinions of the suit, and the majority of them disagree with the application of the Toubon Law to the Internet. Various faculty members object to the use of the statute against the Web site as well. Furthermore, a number of people who are not associated with Georgia Tech Lorraine expressed dismay toward the situation. They believe that the French are trying to place unreasonable restrictions on the way in which the Internet is used.

Many of those who are in disagreement believe that the Web pages of the Internet do not exist in any one country. They believe, instead, that these pages exist in cyberspace.

"Although cyberspace should have some regulations, restrictions on what language to use shouldn't be one of them. Freedom of speech is an important human right and if a person feels that what he or she has to say is said best in German or French or Chinese, they should be allowed to do so in general," commented Michael Mayercik, SGA President at Georgia Tech Lorraine.

The case will be judged on whether or not Georgia Tech Lorraine, a institution established under French law and conducting business in France, has violated the Toubon Law by advertising goods and services solely in English.

The argument has been made that, because the Web pages discuss the availability of graduate assistantships and tuition and fees, it is an advertisement.

However, those in disagreement with the lawsuit believe that the Web pages do not constitute advertising.

"My own feeling is that the Georgia Tech Lorraine Web pages are not advertising, but rather a posting of information," stated Rhodes.

Additionally, some people argue against the lawsuit because of the fact that the 1994 law provides specific exemptions for educational purposes.

Many also feel that the Toubon Law is in contradiction with the Treaty of Rome, which guarantees freedom of speech in any language to any citizen.

Those in disagreement with the case realize that an improper procedure was followed when the complaint was filed. In order to file a complaint, an infraction must be noted by an official of the French government and taken to a prosecutor. That prosecutor must then decide if the situation has enough merit to file a complaint. In this particular case, the accusations were filed directly with the court.

Mainly as a consequence of scarce resources, the first edition of the Georgia Tech Lorraine Web site is primarily in English. Future editions will be multilingual.

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Copyright © 1997 by David L. Skinner, Editor and by the Student Publications Board