American sues France for seizing France.com web domain he's owned since '94

American sues France for seizing France.com web domain he's owned since '94
A French-born American bought the domain France.com in 1994. However, in March 2018, the ownership of the domain was abruptly transferred to the French government. Now, Jean-Noël Frydman is suing to get his business back.

Over a 20-year period, Frydman built up a substantial business that served the French-speaking community in the United States; he even collaborated with several French governmental agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would later sue for control of his web domain.

Frydman employed the services of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard Law School to help him wrest control of the website back from the French authorities in 2016 but to no avail. In September 2017, the Paris Court of Appeals declared that France.com was operating in violation of French trademark law, a ruling which forced web.com to transfer ownership of the domain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 12, 2018. Frydman was neither notified nor compensated.

‘“Defendants did not approach Plaintiff to purchase or license the domain, the trademark, or Plaintiff's underlying business and goodwill. Instead, in 2015, 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,’” the lawsuit reads as cited by Ars Technica.

Frydman filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia on April 19, in which he names the French Republic, Atout France (a French government tourism agency), the Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and VeriSign, as the defendants. He claims the domain is worth millions of dollars a year.

“Starting in 1994, France.com was a pioneer in the use of the Internet for publication: it was the first company to distribute a daily French national newspaper on the Internet (Le Monde); the first to publish an online travel guide to France; the first to create an online hotel booking engine. Its other early innovations include the first viral success of the French-speaking Internet (Les Webs d'Or), and the world's first hotel comments platform (a la TripAdvisor),” Frydman wrote on his LinkedIn profile.

"I'm probably [one of Web.com's] oldest customers," Frydman told Ars. "I've been with them for 24 years... There's never been any cases against France.com, and they just did that without any notice. I've never been treated like that by any company anywhere in the world. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone."

In his legal filing, Frydman highlighted the fact that the French government had already ceded that it did not own the right to the word "France," while also acknowledging that French authorities made no effort to buy or license the domain before initially requesting that it be frozen and then subsequently seizing it. The case also raises the issue of whether a country can seize a domain from a foreign resident, as such a move would set an extremely dangerous precedent.

RT.com has contacted Matthew McClure, the chief legal officer and secretary for Web.com Group, Inc., for additional comment.  

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