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France does not have a law prohibiting the dissemination of fake legal news specifically, but it has legislation against fake news in general, which would be applicable to legal information.  The French government can rely on the 1881 Law on Freedom of the Press to stop the dissemination of fake news that could disturb public peace. Additionally, a provision of the Electoral Code prohibits the spread of fake news that could affect an election.  In light of the large scale at which fake news can now be disseminated on the internet, France recently adopted a new law that requires large-scale online platform operators to adhere to certain standards of conduct during the three months preceding general elections.  These standards of conduct include the requirement to be transparent about sponsored content and the use of personal data in content promotion, and the requirement to publish the amount of payments received for the promotion of informational content.  The new law also provides that, during the three months preceding an election, a judge may order “any proportional and necessary measure” to stop the dissemination of fake or misleading information online.

With regard to specifically legal information, the French government promotes access to accurate information by maintaining a free legal database online.

I. Introduction

France appears to have a fairly robust legal arsenal against the dissemination of fake news.[1]  Until recently, the French government was able to rely on an 1881 statute against the publication of fake news, as well as a provision of the Electoral Code that prohibits the dissemination of fake news in an electoral context.  While these provisions are still in effect, they were increasingly seen as inefficient to fight against fake and manipulative news disseminated on a large scale through the internet.[2]

The provisions described below do not address legal information specifically, but would be applicable to fake legal information.  To ensure public access to accurate legal information, the French government maintains a free legal database online, which is described in Part IV, below.

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II. 1881 Law on Freedom of the Press and Article L.97 of the Electoral Code

A 1881 law contains a provision, which is still in force, that makes it illegal to disturb public peace through the publication, dissemination, or reproduction of fake news in bad faith.[3] In addition to fake news, this provision bars the bad-faith publication, dissemination, or reproduction of forged or altered items, or items falsely attributed to third parties.[4]  Such acts are punishable by a fine of up to €45,000 (approximately US$51,000), or €135,000 (US$153,000) if the fake news, forged or altered item, or item falsely attributed to another was of a nature to harm the discipline or morale of troops, or to impair the nation’s war effort.[5]  Additionally, the Electoral Code prohibits the dissemination of “fake news, defamatory rumors or other fraudulent schemes” that affect the result of an election.[6]  Such acts are punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to €15,000 (US$17,000).[7]

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III. New Legislation Against the Dissemination of Fake News During Election Periods

In addition to previously existing legislation, the French government recently adopted a pair of new laws to deal more specifically with the large-scale dissemination of fake news through the internet before an election.[8]  This new legislation requires large-scale online platform operators to adhere to the following conduct during the three months preceding general elections:

  • Provide users with “honest, clear and transparent information” about the identity and corporate address of anyone who paid to promote informational content related to a “debate of national interest”;
  • Provide users with “honest, clear and transparent information” about the use of personal data in the context of promoting content related to a “debate of national interest”;
  • Make public the amount of payments received for the promotion of informational content when these amounts are above a certain threshold.[9]

The new legislation also provides that, during the three months preceding an election, a judge may order “any proportional and necessary measure” to stop the “deliberate, artificial or automatic and massive” dissemination of fake or misleading information online.[10]  A public prosecutor, a candidate, a political group or party, or any person with standing can bring a fake news case before the judge, who must rule on the motion within forty-eight hours.[11]

In addition to the above, the new legislation requires large-scale online platform operators to implement measures to prevent the dissemination of false information that could disturb public order or affect the validity of an election.[12]  Online platform operators must also put into place a visible and easily-accessible means for users to flag fake information, and they are required to provide a yearly statement to the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA, Superior Council on Audiovisual) detailing the measures they have taken to fight against the dissemination of fake information.[13]

Finally, the new legislation allows the CSA to suspend television broadcasting services that are controlled or influenced by a foreign government, if it finds that these services are deliberately broadcasting false information during the three months preceding a national election.[14]

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IV. Free Online Legal Database

The French government has long promoted the free access to official legal information online.  As early as 1994, it started publishing an online version of the “Laws and Decrees” section of the Journal official de la République française, the French official gazette.[15]  This database was later incorporated into a website called Legifrance, created in 2002, which represented a larger effort to provide the public with free and accurate access to legal information.[16]  The Legifrance website, which is accessible at www.legifrance.gouv.fr, aims to provide the official version of all current legislative and regulatory texts, including the French Constitution, the legal codes, laws, and national regulations.[17]  It also includes international agreements to which France is a party, as well as directives and regulations of the European Union.  Additionally, Legifrance provides all the recent decisions of the country’s highest courts: the Conseil constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council, which judges whether laws are constitutional), the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State, the highest jurisdiction for administrative law), the Cour de cassation (the highest jurisdiction for civil and criminal matters), and the tribunal des conflits (Tribunal of Conflicts, which resolves jurisdictional disputes).[18]  Legifrance does not publish all decisions of lower courts, but instead publishes a selection of the more significant ones.[19]

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Prepared by Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
April 2019


[1] Les enjeux de la loi contre la manipulation de l’information [The Stakes of the Law Against Information Manipulation], Culture.gouv.fr [website of the French Ministry of Culture] (Nov. 21, 2018), http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Actualites/Les-enjeux-de-la-loi-contre-la-manipulation-de-l-information, archived at https://perma.cc/4NQK-FWYF.

[2] Id.

[3] Loi du 29 juillet 1881 sur la liberté de la presse [Law of 29 July 1881 on Freedom of the Press], art. 27, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006070722&dateTexte=vig, archived at https://perma.cc/2P43-E2D8.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Les enjeux de la loi contre la manipulation de l’information, Culture.gouv.fr, supra  note 1; Loi organique n° 2018-1201 du 22 décembre 2018 relative à la lutte contre la manipulation de l’information [Organic Law No. 2018-1201 of 22 December 2018 Regarding the Fight Against Information Manipulation], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do;jsessionid=3EA914DFE69980E3FBB01324A666B5D1.tplgfr22s_1?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000037847556&dateTexte=&oldAction=rechJO&categorieLien=id&idJO=JORFCONT000037847553, archived at https://perma.cc/CS7C-FBAA; Loi n° 2018-1202 du 22 décembre 2018 relative à la lutte contre la manipulation de l’information [Law No. 2018-1202 of 22 December 2018 Regarding the Fight Against Information Manipulation], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte. do;jsessionid=3EA914DFE69980E3FBB01324A666B5D1.tplgfr22s_1?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000037847559&categorieLien=id, archived at https://perma.cc/9LD2-WWTW.

[9] Loi n° 2018-1202 du 22 décembre 2018, art. 1 (amending Code Electoral [Electoral Code], art. L163-1, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCode.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006070239, archived at https://perma.cc/W36D-E5JZ).

[10] Id. art. 1 (amending C. Electoral, art. L163-2).

[11] Id.

[12] Id. art. 11.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. art. 6.

[15] Arrêté du 12 octobre 1994 portant dispositions relatives à la création et à la diffusion de la base de données informatisée du Journal officiel des lois et décrets [Order of 12 October 1994 Establishing Provisions Regarding the Creation and the Dissemination of a Computer Database of the Official Gazette of Laws and Decrees], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT00000 5616760&dateTexte=20190222, archived at https://perma.cc/MS9S-AKH9.

[16] Décret n° 2002-1064 du 7 août 2002 relatif au service public de la diffusion du droit par l’internet [Decree No. 2002-1064 of 7 August 2002 Regarding the Public Service of Publication of Law through the Internet], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/eli/decret/2002/8/7/PRMX0205836D/jo, archived at https://perma.cc/5V5N-MU4B; Arrêté du 9 octobre 2002 relatif au site internet de Légifrance [Order of 9 October 2002 Regarding the Legifrance Website], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cid Texte=JORFTEXT000000416293, archived at https://perma.cc/J5C9-H5KZ.

[17] Décret n° 2002-1064 du 7 août 2002, art. 1.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

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Last Updated: 06/11/2019