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Responsibility for content published on the Internet: what are the rules?

Verified 03 December 2020 - Directorate for Legal and Administrative Information (Prime Minister)

If you are the victim of a malicious publication on the Internet (text, video, photo,...), you can report it and request that it be removed. You can also file a complaint against the author of the publication and against the site host. The author of the publication will be punished if his publication violates the law (racism, insult, invasion of privacy...). Hosting companies will be punished if it is proven that they have deliberately posted or left this illegal content online.

Contents concerned

Content published on the Internet can be prosecuted by the French courts:

  • if it can be consulted in France, in the French language,
  • or if it is intended for the French public,
  • or if it is detrimental to the interests of a person living in France.

Even if the author is not in France and even if the site where the content is located is not a French site.

It can be a personal blog, a video or a message on a social network. A user comment may also be pursued.

Content may be continued even if it is not accessible to all Internet users. It can be, for example, accessible to only certain "friends" on a social network.

Offenses concerned

The main offenses where committed on the Internet:

If you wish to have content removed from the Internet, you can use the procedure set up by the site's hosting provider or use the legal procedure.

Site Hosting Procedure

You can request the removal of content as part of a procedure specific to the host of that content.

Many hosting companies, for example video sites, set their own conditions for the removal of content, in particular because of copyright infringement or offensive images. They have specific reporting mechanisms.

These withdrawal conditions may not correspond to the laws applicable in France and vary from one host to another.

Social networks also have their own conditions for removing content.

You can also request the removal of a comment according to site-specific rules.

Procedure imposed on all hosts by law

This procedure depends on the French law and not on the specific rules of each host. It differs depending on whether it is a publication or a comment.

General case

You are a natural person

You must first contact the author of the content.

If he refuses to withdraw it, you must contact his host. The host's contact details must be indicated on the website.

The hosting company does not have the obligation to constantly monitor all the content it stores. It must act only if it is notified of specific content. A social network can be subject to the same rules as a hosting provider because it stores texts, images or videos.

To report content to a hosting provider in a court setting, you must follow a specific procedure.

Your request must include the following:

  • Your name, first name and e-mail address (not required if you are logged on to the site at the time of notification and your credentials are already registered)
  • Description of the disputed content, its precise location on the site and, if possible, the e-mail addresses that made it accessible
  • Legal grounds for removing content (law apparently violated by content)
  • Copy of 1mother request for withdrawal addressed to the author or proof of impossibility to contact him (it is not necessary for offenses the most serious, such as terrorism, pedophilia, crimes against humanity)

You can make your request via a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt. You can ask for a lawyer's help.

Who shall I contact

You can attach screenshots of the contents realized by a bailiff.

If you report content knowingly knowing that it is not illegal, you could face up to 1 year in prison and €15,000 fine.

If you have used this procedure and the host does not quickly remove the content (by explicit refusal or by not responding to you), you can file against him.

The complaint will be based on the fact that the offending content is against the law (insults, racist remarks, homophobes, sexism...).

FYI  

in case of emergency and obvious harm, you can request a referral to have content removed by the host. However, the latter will not be criminally punished.

You are a company

You must first contact the author of the content.

If he refuses to withdraw it, you must contact his host. The host's contact details must be indicated on the website.

The hosting company does not have the obligation to constantly monitor all the content it stores. It must act only if it is notified of specific content. A social network can be subject to the same rules as a hosting provider because it stores texts, images or videos.

To report content to a hosting provider in a court setting, you must follow a specific procedure

Your request must include the following:

  • Corporate form, name and e-mail address (this is not necessary if the legal person's representative is logged on to the site at the time of notification and his identification elements are already registered)
  • Description of the disputed content, its precise location on the site and, if possible, the e-mail addresses that made it accessible
  • Legal reasons why the content should be removed (law apparently violated by the content...)
  • Copy of 1mother request for withdrawal addressed to the author or proof of impossibility to contact him (this is not necessary for offenses the most serious, such as terrorism, pedophilia, crimes against humanity)

You can make your request via a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt. You can ask for a lawyer's help.

Who shall I contact

You can attach screenshots of the contents realized by a bailiff.

If you report content knowingly knowing that it is not illegal, you could face up to 1 year in prison and €15,000 fine.

If you have used this procedure and the host does not quickly remove the content (by explicit refusal or by not responding to you), you can file against him.

The complaint will be based on the fact that the offending content is against the law (insults, racist remarks, homophobes, sexism...).

FYI  

in case of emergency and obvious harm, you can request a referral to have content removed by the host. However, the latter will not be criminally punished.

For comment

You should contact the person in charge of the site where the comment is located.

You can use a registered letter with acknowledgement. You can ask for a lawyer's help.

Who shall I contact

You can attach screenshots of the contents realized by a bailiff.

Your withdrawal request must be as specific as possible: relevant offenses, link to the offending comment, ...

If the site manager does not delete the comment quickly, you can file against him for the offense concerned.

FYI  

in case of emergency and obvious harm, you can request a referral to remove a comment.

Complaint against the author of the illicit content

If you consider yourself a victim of content published on the Internet, you can file against the author himself. He will be responsible to the court.

FYI  

an electronic complaint of moral and sexual harassment of a discriminatory nature on the Internet must be filed before the court of justice of Paris, when the acts were committed throughout the territory.

This author is the one who created the content in question: the editor of a blog, the director of a video, a photographer.

If you do not know his identity, you can file a complaint against X.

However, the content host is not responsible. The hosting provider is the one who ensures, free or paying, the storage of any content (a blog, a video...) to make it available to the public via Internet. It only provides technical means and it does not choose to put online such or such content. Even if the logo appears on the web page where the content is located (in the case of a video for example).

However, the host must allow the court to identify the author(s) of the offending content.

To accompany your complaint, you can collect evidence yourself by any means, including screenshots. You can appeal to a judicial officer for this.

Who shall I contact

Many websites (news sites, blogs...) offer users to comment on their content in a dedicated space located below the articles.

In the event of a press offense (insult, defamation, incitement to racial hatred...), the author of the commentary is responsible for his remarks. Your complaint must therefore be directed at the author of the offending comment and not the person in charge of the site where the comment is located.

Even without being personally a victim, you can report illegal content to the police and gendarmerie. This report is not a complaint.

Report illegal internet content (internet-flagging: Pharos

Complaint against the host or the person responsible for the site

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Content

You can directly lodge a complaint against the site host if he refuses to remove the illegal content after your report.

Comment

You can directly file a complaint against the site manager only if you prove that he or she knew about the comment before it was posted. Some comment systems allow the site manager to validate each user's comment before its publication.

For other offenses such as death threats, your complaint may directly target the author of the comment and/or the site manager.

FYI  

electronic complaint for harassment and sexual harassment be brought before the Court of Justice in Paris where the acts were committed on the Internet throughout the territory.