How safe is your domain name? Well not quite as safe as you thought according to Jean-Noel Frydman who has owned the france.com domain since 1994 and has just had it confiscated by France.
The back story is that he’s not a cyber squatter but has been using the domain to run his website promoting France as a travel destination to French ex pats and Americans for the past 24 years and even had the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs collaborate with him on content in the past. Then in 2015, they decided that france.com should belong to France and initiated court proceedings
Ars Technica reports that the Paris Court of Appeals ruled the domain infringed French trademark law and lawyers wrote to Web.com, the domain registrar demanding seizure of the domain. In March Web.com handed over the domain to the French tourist without any formal notification to Jean-Noel and no compensation for snaffling the domain he’d held for almost a quarter of a century.
Jean-Noel was of course an early Internet adopter, not too many people were online in 1994 let alone registering domains. There are some additional interesting issues here as well:
- A French court appears to have power over a US domain registrar
- French people don’t even call France ‘France’, it’s ‘République Française’
- In 2011, Atout France – the France Tourism Development Agency, registered a US trademark, asserting ‘no claim to the exclusive right to use “France” in the US
- Over many years Atout France have recognised, endorsed, partnered with and given awards to France.com
- The official French government website is gouvernement.fr and their tourist website is france.fr
- Why haven’t France also confiscated france.de and other similar URLs?
If after years of mutual collaboration, a domain can simply be seized, it does open up the question as to how much you can rely on your URL. The first come first served rule of .com registrations doesn’t appear to hold in this instance and that means any domain could be up for grabs if a court anywhere in the world decides to rule it should be confiscated.
France.com’s owners are now filed a lawsuit against the French Republic, its ministry of foreign affairs, its minister of foreign affairs and Atout France at the Eastern District Court of Virginia, USA.