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Legal battle over who owns France.com domain name

In 2015, France started legal action against Frenchman Jean-Noel Frydman, who had registered France.com in 1994. He had registered other domain names, too. But over the years, he sold them off, and France.com became his only project.

On March 12th, France.com suddenly went offline. For 24 years, it had been a tourist and travel booking site, but now it was redirecting to the English version of the government’s official site at France.fr. Overnight, his website had disappeared, and all associated email addresses were suddenly bouncing back. In a matter of minutes, a unique and lucrative asset had gone with the winds.

Mr Frydman is suing the French Republic, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Atout France tourist agency and domain registrar Verisign. He alleges the government did not ask to license or buy the domain and instead “misused” the legal system to seize it.

The fight has turned into a lesson in international relations, with US and French courts dueling over a prized slice of intangible namespace, testing exactly how neutral and international the infrastructure of the web really is.

The site went through a number of incarnations, briefly offering France-based news (including Le Monde) for paying subscribers before eventually settling on a travel agency model. He said he had run France.com as an information hub for French people and fans of French culture living in the US.

The foreign ministry in France, The French tourism bureau argued in court that the domain was rightful property of the government. Who should France.com belong to, if not France? In July 2016, the High Court of Paris agreed, ordering Frydman to transfer the domain or face a fine. The ruling that was upheld by an appeals court in September 2017, and it’s currently being appealed to France’s highest court.

Frydman still expected to maintain control of the domain while the case was going forward, even if he faces a fine for holding out. Mr Frydman has set up a website called unfairfrance.com detailing the history of France.com and the extent of its collaboration with the French state.

Photo by INTERNET ACHIVES

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