French Canadian ad language laws threaten UK web marketers as a result of this net-unfriendly decision.
Who: Hyperinfo Canada Inc and Justice Benoit
When: Spring 2002
Section 52 of Quebec’s “Charter of the French Language” requires that all “catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any similar publications must be drawn up in French”. Hyperinfo Canada was a Quebec corporation responsible for a website which carried various advertisements. In the hope of avoiding problems under the Charter, Hyperinfo included on the site notices indicating that “the goods and services on this website are not available to Quebec residents due to the French Language Charter”. In a further prudent measure, they introduced a “blocking” mechanism which was actually able to prevent visitors with a “.qc” suffix on their email address from accessing the site.
This was still not enough, however, to prevent Hyperinfo being successfully prosecuted under the Charter. Justice Benoit of the Quebec Court fined Hyperinfo $500, holding that the Charter applied to all websites operated by companies and individuals based in Quebec, and suggesting, also that the Charter might additionally apply to websites which are “entirely or partially directed at the Quebec market, whether or not the website operator has a place of business in Quebec”. The notice posted on the Hyperinfo site and the blocking mechanism were insufficient, the Justice of the Peace held, to conclude that the site was not directed at Quebec residents.
Why this matters:
Clearly the verdict is of concern to companies in Quebec wishing to run advertising in English on their websites, but of wider interest is the possible ability of this “French language only” law to be wheeled out against websites operated from, for instance, the UK, unless measures are taken to prevent the site being responded to by residents of the largely French speaking Canadian state. Soon we may see websites and email marketing messages in the English language and originating from the UK carrying default notices stating that any offer or promotion on the site is not available to Quebec residents.