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A US company that previously owned the domain name France.com has accused the French government of illegally seizing the domain.
In a complaint filed on Thursday, April 19, at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, France.com, Inc named France the country, Atout France (the country’s tourism agency) and Jean-Yves Le Drian, minister for Europe and foreign affairs, among the defendants.
In 1994, Jean-Noel Frydman, the owner of France.com, Inc, purchased the domain name to promote American travel and tourism to France.
France.com, Inc owns US trademarks for ‘France.com’, covering classes 35, 39 and 41. Services covered include advertising, travel information and travel blogs.
According to the claim, the defendants had “fruitfully collaborated” with the US company but, in 2015, the defendants began expressing an interest in owning the domain name.
“Defendants misused the French judicial system to seize the domain from plaintiff without compensation, under the erroneous theory that defendants were inherently entitled to take the domain because it included the word ‘France’,” alleged the claim.
The US company added that the High Court of Paris (Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris) had ordered the transfer of the domain name to the French Republic, in “contravention of both European and US trademark law”, in July 2016.
On appeal, the Paris Court of Appeals (Cour d’Appel de Paris) affirmed the lower court’s judgment in September last year.
In March 2018, domain name registrar Web.com transferred France.com to the defendants, which immediately stopped all internet traffic to France.com, Inc’s business, “effectively shutting down plaintiff’s operations”.
“If left to stand, defendants’ actions threaten to rob plaintiff of millions of dollars in branding, marketing, and business development efforts, and cause millions more in lost profits,” said the claim.
The US company claimed that France has benefited from over two decades of advertising because of the domain and that France.com, Inc has been blocked from receiving business emails at addresses ending in “@france.com”.
France.com, Inc is seeking an order that France has engaged in cybersquatting and trademark infringement, as well as injunctive relief requiring the transfer of the domain.
Eve Brown, a lawyer at Bricolage Law and representative of France.com, Inc, said: “Generic and geographic words cannot and should not be ‘owned’ or monopolised by any one person or entity, even if that ‘entity’ is a country.”
She added that domain names and websites span countries in a way that traditional property does not.
“In that way, this case has larger implications for the world market. Actions in France can have very real consequences in the US. And no one should be able to take the property of another person without fair compensation, even if that property is thousands of miles away,” concluded Brown.
rance.com, domain names, French government, seizure, branding, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Atout France