Employer held liable for employee's online misdemeanours


In Escota v Lycos, Lucent Technologies and B, the Marseille High Court has found an employer liable for an illicit website created by one of its employees, the domain name of which infringed another company's trademark. The decision is expected to have a profound impact on company rules regarding computer use by employees.

B created a pornographic website called 'Escroca' (which translates as crook or swindler), a play on the name of French roads authority Escota. B created the website at his place of employment - Lucent Technologies - using Lucent's computer equipment.

Lucent argued that it was not responsible for B's actions, as he had developed the website without any authorization and outside his working hours. The court disagreed and found that because B had used Lucent's equipment to create the site, it was partly responsible for the criminal act.

Usually an employer is not responsible for the actions of its employees when these take place outside the parameters of their jobs. However, the court based its decision on the fact that the staff manager at Lucent allowed employees to surf the Internet even when this had no direct bearing on their work. In addition, employees were not expressly forbidden from creating personal websites while at work. Accordingly, the court considered that B had not acted outside the scope of his job and Lucent must bear some of the blame.

The ruling suggests that French companies and subsidiaries of foreign firms in France will have to be more careful regarding their employees' use of company equipment and the Internet at work, even when this takes place outside working hours.

Eugenie Chaumont, Inlex Conseil, Paris

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