A Frenchman is suing his home country after it seized France.com, the web domain he owned for over two decades.
Jean-Noel Frydman, who was born in France but lives in New York, registered the France.com domain name back in February 1994 before launching the website in June 1995. According to Frydman, the original France.com website featured “information about French culture, the Francophile community and a small section on tourism to France.”
Frydman claims that for the following two decades, France.com was in “constant partnership” with “various entities and branches of the French government.” He says these government entities weren’t just aware of the existence of France.com, Inc., but they “consistently encouraged and supported” the site.
In 2015, however, the state of France entered into a legal battle with Frydman in a bid to expropriate the domain “without any compensation,” and claimed Frydman had “registered the domain name in bad faith” and “hadn’t been authorised by the French state” to use it.
This lawsuit was successful, and in March 2018, France.com’s domain name was transferred to France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For Frydman, the battle doesn’t end there. On 23 April, he filed a lawsuit against the French Republic, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and France’s Tourism Development Agency.
The legal document, which is available online, accuses the state of France of “domain name hijacking,” a.k.a. cybersquatting.
Intellectual property lawyer Oliver Smith—a commercial litigation specialist at Keystone Law—says that Frydman’s dispute is an uncommon one. He says he could only think one other similar case involving Iceland. In 2016, the state of Iceland entered a legal dispute with British supermarket Iceland over the trademark of its name.
Smith says that a country would only have ownership over a domain like France.com “within its own borders.” Beyond those borders, Smith says, domains are governed by the rules dictated by ICANN, the organisation which “supervises the worldwide registration system.”
So, does Frydman have a chance of getting France.com back?
Smith seems to think so—albeit a rather “small chance.” “If he is smart he may be able to somehow keep ownership of the domain in practice for everywhere outside of France,” says Smith.