Remember when cybersquatting was popular? The practice involves registering well-known names as domains in the hope of reselling them for a massive profit. Sometimes, a company—or in this case, a country—can seize a web domain if it’s being used this way, which appears to be the case with France.com. But the difference in this instance is that the owner was actively using it for almost 25 years.
French-born American Jean-Noël Frydman bought the France.com domain from Web.com back in 1994 and had been using it as a “digital kiosk” for US fans of all things French since that time. He’s even worked with several of his home country's agencies in the past, including the Consulate General in Los Angeles and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But Frydman got more than he bargained for from the latter agency, who filed a lawsuit against him in 2015 to try and seize control of France.com.
Despite help from the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard Law School, the Paris Court of Appeals in September 2017 ruled that France.com violated French trademark law. On March 12, 2018, Web.com transferred the domain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, without first notifying Frydman or offering him any compensation.
On April 19, Frydman filed a lawsuit in Virginia to get his domain back. It names the French Republic, government tourism agency Atout France, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and VeriSign, which deals with .com registries. Web.com wasn’t named.
The suit alleges that the French government is cybersquatting and that its actions are a form of "reverse domain-name hijacking." The filing notes that the government acknowledged it doesn’t own the rights to the word “France,” yet it acted as if it were “inherently entitled” to take the domain.
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