France annexes France.com: previous owner files lawsuit in the hope of retaining the domain
Jean-Noël Frydman, who was born in France but lives in the US, has filed a lawsuit against The French Republic accusing it of unlawful seizure of the domain name France.com.
Mr. Frydman initially acquired the domain in 1994 and had been utilizing it as an informational web presence designed to serve as an intermediary for visitors looking to book tours and hotels in France.
The domain was temporarily locked by the registrar, Web.com, in 2015. In building the website, he had even established relationships with French Governmental agencies.
However, in 2015 France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a lawsuit over the domain on the basis it violated trademark law.
Web.com subsequently transferred the domain after France’s Court of Appeals ruled in the French Republic’s favour in 2017.
According to a letter sent from the French state’s legal counsel to Network Solutions, the Court of Appeals ruled “allowing…a website dedicated to tourism in France…is detrimental to the designation ‘France’ which constitutes for the French State an element of its identity”.
The French courts also ordered France.com to transfer to the French state a range of trademarks it had filed. Failure to do so would result in a penalty of 150 Euro for each day of delay and per trademark.
Jean-Noël Frydman has an active trademark on France.com in the US, according the USPTO website.
In his lawsuit filed through a United States District Court, Mr. Frydman accuses the French state of “unlawfully” obtaining his property without compensation and “causing irreparable harm” to his business.
The preliminary statement also argues that if the ruling stands then the French state will have “robbed” Mr. Frydman of “millions of dollars in branding, marketing and business development efforts, and caused millions more in lost profits”.
France’s Minister for European and Foreign Affairs and Verisign, the domain registry for .com domain names, have been named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims the defendants have been aware of Mr Frydman’s use of the registered trademark, France.com, since 2014 and have previously collaborated with him.
Perhaps of greater concern, the lawsuit also claims the defendants appropriated the domain by leveraging the Court of Appeals decision without informing Mr. Frydman, and then redirected the domain to a newly created tourism website owned by the defendant.
It also accuses the French Republic of “reverse domain hijacking,” which is defined by the UDRP as “using the [UDRP process] in bad faith to attempt to deprive a registered domain-name holder of a domain name.”
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has made findings of “reverse domain hijacking” (RDNH) in several high profile cases over the last few years.